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Kruse grants a second chance to a young father convicted of burglary

Chief Justice Michael Kruse [SN file photo]

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A 23-year-old father who was convicted of breaking into a room at Siliaga Elementary School in Aoloau and stealing a computer received a second chance from the court this week.

Chief Justice Michael Kruse ordered Tuna Talipope Lepou Suitulaga to be released from prison on Monday.

This comes after he served over 5 months in jail. Kruse said the 28-month detention period is stayed until further order of the court. 

Suitulaga, a citizen of Samoa, was initially charged with first degree burglary — a felony; however, under a plea agreement with the government, the defendant agreed to plead guilty to the amended count of second degree burglary, a class C felony punishable by an imprisonment term of up to 7 years, or a fine of up to $5,000, or both.

With his guilty plea, Suitulaga admits that on the night of Aug. 2, 2017 in Aoloau, he unlawfully entered a room at Siliaga Elementary School by removing a screen wire off a window, and stole a computer that belonged to someone else.

During his sentencing this week, the defendant was in tears when he apologized to the court for his actions. He begged for a second chance so he can return home to care for his wife and child, and help with his wife's family plantation.

Suitulaga also apologized to his wife's family, his parents who are in Samoa, his church, and the village of Aoloau.

“I am married with one son. Neither me nor my wife work, so we depend on our plantation to survive. I am a young father who works very hard on my plantation to make sure my wife and my son have something to eat everyday," Suitulaga told the panel of judges.

He begged for a second chance and said he is remorseful, and assured the court he will never commit another crime.

Defense attorney, Public Defender Douglas Fiaui told the court his client made a foolish mistake, when he unlawfully entered a school building and stole a computer that was used to teach the young children of Aoloau.

Fiaui said his client did not realize his actions would affect his family and his future. He asked the court to allow Suitulaga to continue to live with his wife and son in American Samoa, because his immigration papers expired while he was in custody, awaiting sentencing.

According to Fiaui, his client is a suitable candidate for a probated sentence, because not only is he a first time offender, he also admitted to the charge early.

He asked the court to place his client on probation without any additional jail time. Suitulaga was arrested on Oct. 13, 2017 and after three months in prison, he agreed to enter a guilty plea.

Prosecutor Woodrow Pengelly echoed the defense’s submission that Suitulaga is a suitable candidate for a probated sentence. He added that the government is not seeking any additional jail time, because they feel that five months at the TCF is enough for his actions.

In delivering his decision, Kruse said the court believes the defendant is truly remorseful for what he did, and he is a suitable candidate for probation, based on the pre-sentence report.

The defendant was then sentenced to 7 years probation under certain conditions, which include a 28-month term at the TCF and afterwards, he shall depart the territory and remain outside of its borders for the duration of his probation, which is 7 years.

However, execution of the detention period and the condition to depart the territory are stayed until further order of the court.

“If you violate any of these conditions, you will be ordered to serve out the balance of detention," said Kruse, including having to depart the territory and remain outside of its borders for 7 years.

Kruse warned the defendant that if the stay is ever lifted, he would face the consequences.

Another condition imposed by the court is that Suitulaga is now under a curfew, meaning he is not to hang around the bus stop near the school after 10 p.m. unless it is for church or village activities.

“You begged for another chance to continue caring for your wife and son. We accept your request and are giving you a second chance. If you fail to abide with all of the court's orders, you will find yourself on the other side of the ocean, and it’s up to you whether you work on your plantation from Apia to feed your wife and son living on island, or you take them with you,” Kruse told the defendant.

The pre-sentence report from the Probation Office notes that the defendant was initially employed at the cannery, but his father-in-law talked him into staying home to take over the family plantation.