Kruse says 'hungry' is not an excuse — 5 years for three escapees
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Chief Justice Michael Kruse sent a strong message yesterday morning when the court sentenced “three hungry inmates” who escaped from confinement last year.
And that is: leaving confinement to look for food is not an excuse.
“We don’t want to send the wrong message to the public, especially to other inmates, that it's okay to stand up and walk away, and then go and tell the court that we were hungry,” Kruse told the three defendants, who were in High Court yesterday for sentencing.
The trio are: Luaao Fagota a.k.a Andrew Peters, Jason Isaia Muasau, and Vatia Tugaga. All were represented by Assistant Public Defender Ryan Anderson, while prosecuting the case was Assistant Attorney General Laura Garvey.
Before deliberating on the sentence, Kruse asked if anyone wanted to add anything. Counsel Anderson reminded the court that all three of his clients have already apologized for their actions, and explained the reason why they walked out of TCF.
Anderson said the trio went out looking for food, they did not commit any crimes while they were out of custody, and they voluntarily returned to the TCF in less than 24 hours.
Kruse took a while pondering on what to say next. A recess was called.
When court reconvened, Kruse said the three defendants were convicted of escape from confinement, a class D felony, which carries an imprisonment term of up to 5 years, and a fine of up to $5,000 or both.
He then sentenced each defendant to five years imprisonment, and the sentence will run consecutively with any imprisonment terms they are already serving at TCF.
“We want to send this message: the 'hungry' excuse is not something this court will take lightly,” Kruse said.
According to him, the court understands that the Executive Branch is looking at ways to address the “food problem” at TCF; however, the court also wants to look at the circumstances of the cases that led to these young men being incarcerated at TCF.
Kruse said the sentences for the three defendants will address two things: the court does not want to send the wrong message to the public that walking out of prison to look for food is a good excuse; and the court does not understand why young men from TCF keep escaping from confinement.
He said there are senior citizens who are serving time inside TCF, whom are never seen in court for leaving confinement; but most of the escapees are young men who walk out of confinement whenever they want.
Kruse told the trio that they need to think about the privileges they do have in TCF, such as time for sports, weekend visitations, and also the chance to walk around free in the TCF compound, with free sunshine at all times.
“At some point, the government will build another new facility where you will not be able to see the sunshine because that’s what you are pushing for,” Kruse told three men.
“You’re all serving long sentences for previous actions, and this sentence is now added to those long sentences. If you do the same actions in the future, the court will continue to add years to your sentences.”
Peters' criminal history dates back to 2012 when he was convicted of stealing an iPhone belonging to a taxi driver; and in 2014, he stole beer from an Asian owned store in Pago Pago, while also assaulting the customer and store clerk. He is currently serving time on the latter.
Muasau and Tugaga are each serving 27-year sentences — since 2011 — for assaulting a man in his 70s while he was sleeping on board his yacht. The court convicted the pair of first degree assault, a class A felony.