Pastor sentenced to 6 months for endangering the welfare of his 13-year-old daughter
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The 56-year-old church pastor who was convicted by a six-member jury last month of endangering the welfare of a child, who is his 13-year-old biological daughter is going to jail.
Chief Justice Michael Kruse sentenced him to a term of imprisonment of 180 days, (which is 6 months), and a fine of $1,000.
Samoa News is withholding the name of the church pastor to protect the identity of the victim, who is a minor. According to information revealed in court during the pastor’s jury trial last month, the defendant is the victim’s biological father; however, the victim was adopted by another family when she was born.
The defendant, who is a pastor at one of the local churches on the west side was originally charged with sodomy, first degree sexual abuse, and incest, all felonies, and one misdemeanor charge of endangering the welfare of a child.
However, after hearing all the facts of the case during the trial, the pastor, who has also worked at Fletcher Construction for over 5 years, was found not guilty by the jury of sodomy, first degree sexual abuse, and incest, but found guilty of a class A misdemeanor — endangering the welfare of a child.
The defendant appeared in High Court for sentencing.
He was represented by Assistant Public Defenders, Rob McNeill and Ryan Anderson, while prosecuting the case was Assistant Attorney General Robert Morris.
When given the chance to address the court, the defendant first greeted the court in the name of Jesus Christ, the Lord and Savior. He then apologized to the court for his actions and immediately begged for another chance to continue his service for his church, and also to care for his wife and children.
“Please your honor, grant me another opportunity so that I can continue my service for the government of American Samoa, through my position for my church, and also to provide for my wife and children,” the defendant said.
He never apologized to his biological daughter, who is the victim in this case.
His attorney, McNeill told the court about his client’s history.
Born and raised in Samoa, McNeill told the court that his client left Samoa when he was 19 years old to continue his education in Australia, where he graduated as a certified mechanic.
His client then moved to New Zealand where his first two children were born. They are currently living in Australia right now.
In 1995, the defendant and his family moved back to Samoa before coming to American Samoa in 1999 where he was employed by several private companies until 2014 when he was hired by the Fletcher Construction Company as a mechanic, and continued to be employed by the same company until now.
McNeill stated that In Dec. 6, 2016, his client was arrested by police in a case where he was convicted of a class A misdemeanor.
In January of this year, the defendant was ordained as a certified pastor for one of the local churches.
“This is a sad case for this man and his family. We don’t know how the allegation came about against this hard working man, all we know is that my client is a loving person, a tax payer, a man who is trusted and loved by his wife, children and his church,” McNeill told the court. He also said the family is heartbroken about this case.
According to McNeill, he was confused about the jury’s verdict against his client. The conviction stemmed from the allegation that he sexually abused his biological daughter, however, the jury found him not guilty of the all of the felony charges, but found him guilty of the misdemeanor charge.
In conclusion, McNeill asked the court to sentence his client to a probated sentence without any period of detention.
Prosecutor Morris emphasized to the court his frustration and confusion about the jury’s verdict.
“This is a very serious case and the facts surrounding the case were very serious. This defendant deserves to be sentenced to jail for the maximum sentence,” Morris told the court.
According to Morris, it was clear from the evidence of the case that the defendant touched his biological daughter in a sexual manner. However, the jury looked the other way because the defendant is a pastor. Morris also stated to the court that the jury also based their decision on their emotions.
“The defendant placed his hand on the Bible and lied to the jury that he never touched his biological daughter in a sexual manner,” Morris told the court.
“The Samoan jury then looked at this defendant as a pastor, and then delivered a not guilty verdict based on their emotion. Their decision makes me sick.”
Kruse and his associate judges spent over 20 minutes deliberating on the defendant’s sentence.
Before he rendered the court’s decision, Kruse voiced the court’s comment on the so-called “confusing” aspect of the jury’s decision.
Kruse stated that, while both sides have given their statements regarding their confusion on the jury’s decision, the court wanted to point out that in most of the sex cases, like this case, the jury would have the chance to hear the child’s testimony about what allegedly happened.
In this case, that was not what happened. The jury was unable to hear the child’s testimony of what allegedly happened, and the court feels that’s where the confusion comes from.
About the issue of “fingering” the child by the defendant that the government alluded to, Kruse pointed out that there was another person who was also involved in the “fingering” of the child, and that was the Doctor who testified during the trial.
According to Kruse, the Doctor was never charged with deviate sexual assault, despite what was revealed during the trial.
On the other side of the coin was the defendant, who took the stand and told the jury that he was very angry with the way his daughter presented herself when she dressed inside the house. Furthermore, there were also statements the defendant told his daughter about having a boyfriend, and not to hang around with boys.
“So don’t be quick to make a decision about the child and the jury’s decision,” Kruse told both attorneys.
The court then sentenced the defendant to a term of imprisonment of 180 days, with credit for time served and a fine of $1,000.
“This sentence will not entitle (him) to parole,” Kruse said.
McNeill quickly asked the court if his client would be eligible for work release, and Kruse responded, saying, “This is a straight sentence. If you need your client to be on work release, go talk to the Warden.”
Associate Judges Fa’amausili Pomele and Muasau T. Tofili accompanied Kruse in handing down the defendant’s sentence.
The case against the defendant came to light on Dec. 6, 2016 when the victim went to visit her biological parents and spend the night with them at their home in Tafuna.
The victim slept with her biological parents, along with her biological sisters in one bedroom on the night of the alleged incident.
Around 4a.m, the victim’s biological mother and her sister left the house for work, leaving the defendant and the victim alone in the room. And it was then that, according to the government, the defendant sexually abused his daughter.
The government claims that after the alleged abuse, the minister told his daughter that he does not want her to have a boyfriend.
When the victim left her biological parents' home later that morning, she went home and told her adoptive mother what happened.
Police were notified and the girl was taken to the LBJ for a check up.