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Kruse gives woman a second chance at life — her mother is her warden

Chief Justice Michael Kruse
Court places her on probation for 10 years following drug convictions

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA —  After spending over nine months behind bars awaiting sentencing, one of the three defendants in a case that was sparked by a police raid of two homes in Pago Pago last May was released from custody yesterday morning.

Meriko Lomu appeared in High Court yesterday morning for sentencing. Private attorney Marcellus Talaimalo Uiagalelei represented her, while prosecuting the case was Assistant Attorney General Christy Dunn.

Lomu, 24, was charged in two separate cases, both involving illegal drugs. After entering into an agreement with the government, Lomu agreed to plead guilty to possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute in the first case.

For the second case, she pled guilty to unlawful possession of methamphetamine with the intent to distribute, both unclassified felonies and each count is punishable by a jail term of not more than 10 years, a fine of up to $20,000 or both.

The defense's first witness yesterday was the defendant’s mother, who testified about her relationship with her daughter before she was arrested last year.

According to the mother, their relationship was difficult because her grandparents raised her.

She said Lomu lived a strict life. Her grandmother did not allow her to party or watch any TV at home; instead, she just stayed in the house and did homework.

The witness said trouble started when her mother passed away and Lomu had to move in with her. She said Lomu never called her "mother" as she considers her a sister.

"She told people that I don’t love her,” the witness said, adding that Lomu is "a very intelligent young woman who hangs out with wrong friends."

“I want her to come back to me so I can discipline her accordingly because I was the one who gave birth to her,” the witness told the court.

Lomu’s two young children have been living with the witness since she was arrested last May.

When given the chance to address the court, Lomu apologized and begged for another chance so she can be with her kids and fulfill her duties as a mother.

She then told her story and explained why she ended up on the wrong side of the law. According to her, she was in a relationship that resulted in 2 kids; and she was unemployed when her relationship ended.

As a result, “during that hard time of my life, I was unable to survive because I didn’t have money to feed my children," she said, adding that she "suffered" and because she was "desperate", she committed a crime.

However, she added, "this is not an excuse for my actions and I want to apologize to the court."

She also apologized to the police officers, who were involved with her arrest — for disrespecting them with her actions — and to her mother, her siblings, and her family for bringing shame to them.

She told the court that she can't change the past but said she can redeem herself for the future. "I am really sorry for what I did and I am truly remorseful. I spent over 9 months at the TCF and I have repented…”

According to Lomu, her 3-year-old is in ECE and her one-year-old doesn’t recognize her as her mother because she has been away from home for almost a year.

She promised the court that if she is given a second chance, she would do her best to prove for them — that she is a changed person.

Attorneys from both sides asked the court to adopt the recommendation by the Probation Office and that is, to place the defendant on probation and allow her the opportunity to redeem herself.

Chief Justice Michael Kruse sentenced Lomu to ten years imprisonment for each count. Sentences will run concurrently. Execution of the sentence is suspended and the defendant is placed on probation for 10 years with several conditions.

Lomu will undertake a 40-month period of detention at the TCF without release; however, execution of detention will commence on Friday, Dec. 06, 2019 the same date as Lomu's probation review.

“In this interim period prior to detention, the defendant will be under the supervision of the Chief of Probation," Kruse said, adding that Lomu will remain under the physical custody of her birth mother, who is now her new warden.

Kruse said to the defendant, “If your mother comes back to court and asks for a hearing because you failed to comply with her instructions, the court will bring you back in and you will be ordered to start serving your detention early.”

“Remember, your mother is now your new warden, she’s now the substitute of the TCF warden. Do you understand that?” Kruse asked Lomu who replied affirmatively.

Lomu’s fine is $2,513 which is the total amount of the cash that was seized by police during the raid whereby Lomu was arrested along with two male co-defendants.

Lomu is not to have any direct or indirect contact with her two co-defendants or any members of their family. She is also to submit to random testing, visit Probation once a month, and attend and complete a substance-counseling program.

She has 180 days to secure gainful employment.

“If you ever at anytime try to violate any conditions of your probation, think first about the term of imprisonment of 10 years,” Kruse told the defendant.

He then ordered the defendant's release.

Associate Judges Faamausili Pomele and Muasau T. Tofili accompanied Kruse on the bench.