Jury trial for drug defendant Elijah Leasau continues today
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The jury trial for a man who was charged with one felony count of unlawful possession of a controlled substance, to wit; marijuana over two years ago began yesterday in the High Court.
The six-member jury — five females and one male — was selected on Monday.
During opening statements, prosecutor Christy Dunn told jurors that the “facts of the case are simple,” while defense attorney, Marcellus T. Uiagalleei urged them to be patient and not draw a quick conclusion until all evidence from both sides are heard.
Uiagalelei’s co-counsel is David Vargas.
PROSECUTOR’S OPENING STATEMENT
The government claims that on Dec. 31, 2015 around 3 a.m., Elijah Leasau was driving a white SUV in the Tafuna area when he was pulled over by a police officer who claims that both of Leasau's headlights were off.
According to the government, Leasau slowed down and pulled over in front of a store in Iliili but before he came to a complete stop, he allegedly threw something — a highlighter — out of the vehicle.
The lead investigator in the case, Det. John Seumanutafa, is believed to have recovered the highlighter, which contained a pipe.
The substance inside the pipe was sent off island for testing by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and it tested positive as marijuana.
Dunn told jurors that after they hear all the evidence, they would come back to them and ask them to find the defendant guilty of unlawful possession of marijuana.
Uiagalelei asked the jury to do two things: “Be patient as we go along with the case, and keep an open mind."
He said the government would present some evidence through expert witness testimonies, in addition to video clips to describe what they believe happened the night of the alleged incident.
“But in the end, they will never show you evidence to prove that my client possessed this illegal substance. After you hear all the evidence of the case, you will know why my client should not be guilty of this offense,” Uiagalelei concluded.
PROSECUTION'S FIRST WITNESS
The government called to the stand their first witness, police officer Latara Ah See, the cop who pulled Leasau over on the day in question.
According to Ah See's testimony, she was working as part of the DPS holiday enforcement when she noticed Leasau's vehicle heading west from the Tafuna area. She said the vehicle's headlights were off.
She told jurors she used the loud speaker of her police unit to alert another police unit that was behind Leasau's vehicle, to pull him over because his headlights were off.
Ah See said when she arrived at the parking lot where the defendant’s vehicle had stopped, she noticed something unusual — the passenger window of Leasau's car was half way down, while all the other windows, including the driver’s side, were all up because it was raining that night.
She said one of the police officers, who was present during the traffic stop, found a highlighter a few feet away from where Leasau’s vehicle was parked.
Because the traffic stop took place in front of a store, Ah See said they were able to obtain video footage from the store's surveillance camera.
The government attorney handed over to the witness an envelope with a CD inside, which is what the government claims to be the video footage of the defendant’s actions on the night of the alleged incident, including the time he threw the highlighter out.
The trial resumes at 9 a.m. today with more testimonies.
The case is being heard by Chief Justice Michael Kruse, assisted by Associate Judges Faamausili Pomele and Tunupopo Faleafaga.