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Prison escapee faces 34 years in jail for repeat violations

[SN file photo]
“The only family he has are the inmates in jail,” says Kruse

Chief Justice Michael Kruse has given the government and defense attorneys a 2-month timeframe to come up with a thoughtful plan on what the court should do to finalize Joeita Fa’aaliga’s case.

Fa’aaliga appeared before the High Court last Friday for a Deposition Hearing, pursuant to an order to show cause issued by the Probation Office in regards to his two most recent criminal cases that came before the court a few months ago.

Both are cases that happened while the defendant is serving time in the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF).

Fa’aaliga, an overstayer from Samoa, who entered the territory on a 30-day visitor’s permit, is serving a 12-year straight sentence at the Territorial Correctional Facility.

If the court revokes his probation, he’s looking at serving a total of 34 years behind bars.

It was revealed during last week’s hearing that for his first case in 2013, Fa’aaliga was convicted of first degree burglary and second degree burglary — both felonies, and he was ordered by the court to serve a 40-month detention, as a condition of a 7-year probation sentence.

For his second case in 2014, Fa’aaliga was convicted of felony stealing, and was ordered to serve 28 months, as a condition of a 7-year probated sentence. The 28 months was to be served consecutively with his 40-month sentence.

In 2016, Fa’aaliga was charged in two separate incidents while was serving time in jail. Court records show that the defendant escaped from jail on June 30th, and managed to make his way over to the American Samoa Power Authority (ASPA) main office in Tafuna at night, where he took a woman’s purse while she was sitting inside her vehicle.

For this first case in 2016, Fa’aaliga was convicted with escape from confinement and was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment, a straight sentence.

His second case in 2016 happened on June 19th, where he broke into an Asian Store and stole $1,500. In the second case, the defendant was convicted of felony stealing and was sentenced to 7 years imprisonment, a straight sentence. (Samoa News should point out that the cash was never mentioned as found, or how the defendant used it.)

The defendant’s 12-year straight sentence from the two crimes he committed in 2016 is to be served consecutively with his 2013 sentence.

Chief Probation Officer, Malcolm Polu told the court that Fa’aaliga walked out twice from prison while being detained. And now Kruse wants to know how it happened.

Polu told the court his investigation revealed that Fa’aaliga was able to access certain areas inside the prison because of his “trustee status”. A trustee, according to Polu, is a person who can walk around and gain access anywhere inside the prison, in addition to locking and unlocking the prison gate.

“So that means Fa’aaliga has the key to the gate, and that’s why he was able to walk away from prison twice?” Kruse asked. Polu said the gate has no lock, meaning anyone can open it from inside and out, if they want to enter or exit.

Kruse questioned how a probationer gets trustee status when the court orders them to be detained in prison without release whatsoever. Polu explained that trustee status is given to inmates as part of the Warden’s rehabilitation program, and it has been ongoing for years.

Polu said TCF security told him that trustee status is a Warden’s program, and it started years ago. And although prison wardens change, the program was still in effect, until recently when the court ordered that every prisoner under the court's supervision is not to hold trustee status.

Kruse turned to prosecutor Robert Morris and asked him, if he heard the Chief Probation Officer's statement clearly, to which Morris replied affirmatively.

Kruse, smiling, then said to Morris, “It seems like there is a lack of institutional memory in your office, as well as the TCF.”

He said there is a statute that provides for the Warden’s discretion to rehabilitate inmates, but that applies to those on straight sentences. Kruse recalled a court case many years ago, when Commissioner Te’o and Warden Manase got into trouble for letting probationers out when the court had ordered them to stay in jail.

When asked to explain when and how Fa’aaliga managed to walk away twice from prison, Polu said the defendant — who was a trustee at the time — walked out freely from prison on the night of June 30th, 2016, where he stole a woman’s purse while she was sitting inside her car.

The robbery at the Asian store happened on June 19th — 11 days earlier — but it wasn’t discovered until a review of the store's surveillance video.

After hearing Polu’s statement, Kruse smiled again, faced the government attorney and said, “There you go. Not only do they lack institutional memory but they are also unaware that their inmates are walking in and out of prison, until some Asian store camera caught the defendant.”

Fa’aaliga’s case is continued to January 12, 2018, and Kruse is asking attorneys from both sides to give the court some thoughts on what should be done to Fa’aaliga.

“This defendant is looking at serving 34 years behind bars if his case comes to an end," Kruse said. "We've got a 12-year straight sentence which I have no jurisdiction over, it's up to the Executive and the Parole people to decide until 4 years is up. We want to resolve what to do with this young man. He has no support group on island. The only family he has are the inmates in jail,” Kruse concluded.