Siaumau trial begins: Govt says they have eyewitnesses; defense says they have the wrong man
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Jury instructions and opening statements for the jury trial of a man accused of shooting at a police vehicle while a police officer was inside began yesterday in High Court.
Thomas Siaumau, who has been held in custody without bail since his arrest last year, is charged with first degree assault; first degree attempted murder; corruption of a juvenile; two counts of unlawful use of a weapon - all felonies - along with three misdemeanor charges of public peace disturbance, third degree assault, and unlawful possession of a weapon.
A six-member jury - four females and two males - was selected this past Monday.
Siaumau is represented by attorneys from RDA Law Firm, Richard deSaulles and Daniel Holladay; while prosecuting the case are two Assistant Attorney Generals: Christy Dunn and Laura Garvey, assisted by DPS lead investigator Det. Savelio Vaofanua.
Dunn told jurors that Siaumau was the person, identified by several eyewitnesses, who pointed a gun at a police vehicle; but defense attorney deSaulles told the jury that the government failed to complete its investigation, and they have the wrong man.
PROSECUTOR’S OPENING ARGUMENTS
Dunn told jurors that on the night of Dec. 14, 2017, two police officers were on routine patrol around 9pm in the Tafuna area and received a call that kids were throwing cherry bombs at the ASTCA compound in Tafuna, and they immediately went to investigate.
According to Dunn, as the cops approached the area, they heard gunshots coming from the area near the baseball field. The cops were unable to see anyone; however, they continued to hear gunshots coming from behind the baseball field.
In an effort to find the culprit(s), the two officers split. One went straight towards the baseball field while the other drove the police unit around the area, with the headlights on high beam.
“As the officer inside the police vehicle went around the field, three bullets hit the vehicle. One bullet hit the door on the passenger’s side, the second bullet hit the driver’s seat, and the third bullet shattered the glass at the back of the vehicle,” Dunn told jurors.
Luckily, the officer was not hit by any of the three bullets.
As soon as the bullet hit the vehicle, the officer quickly turned the unit around, went over to the other side, and picked up his fellow officer. The two immediately went to the Tafuna substation. The investigation started immediately the next morning, and several law enforcement officials were at the scene, trying to locate any evidence related to the incident.
During the investigation, evidence revealed that numerous bullet and empty bullet shells were discovered at the scene — seven bullet shells that came from a 9mm while others were from an assault rifle. It was also discovered during the investigation that several lights at the baseball field were shot at.
As the investigation continued, several witnesses started to come forward to report what they allegedly saw during the incident. According to Dunn, some of these witnesses saw Thomas Siaumau and his 15-year-old nephew in the area, shooting guns.
“One witness saw the defendant with a rifle and his nephew with a hand gun. The defendant was aiming and shooting at a police vehicle,” Dunn told jurors.
In conclusion, Dunn told jurors it’s the government’s role to present all the evidence in this case, and at the end of trial, they will return with a guilty verdict on all 8 charges.
deSaulles in his opening remarks told the jury that here in American Samoa and other places around the world, we know that we don’t eat supper unless we say Grace, and there is an order to get things done, so they are done right.
“However, we are here today because the government failed to do that. The American Samoa Government (ASG) failed to do the right thing that needed to be done, and because of that, the wrong person is sitting in the courtroom today,” deSaulles told jurors.
The defense attorney said when crimes occur, police should get all their evidence ready, interview their witnesses, and collect all the necessary information they need, before they arrest a suspect.
“Unfortunately, ASG rushed to the conclusion that this crime was committed by my client, and only after the government believed that my client is guilty, did they try to put together evidence to support their hasty conclusion. You will see throughout this trial that the government’s story is full of holes.”
And no matter how hard the government will try their best to present evidence, deSaulles told jurors that their story will not come out true.
According to the defense, the only facts of the case is that, a police vehicle was shot at while a police officer was inside it.
All the evidence the government is going to present throughout this trial, “are all doubts,” according to deSaulles.
He said Thomas is a husband, father, brother, and son who is wrongly accused by the government. He said the government will present different types of evidence in an effort to prove their case; however, they have missed one thing: “They don’t have one piece of physical evidence.”
“In a shooting case like this one, you want to see a shotgun. But I’m telling you that you will not see a gun at all. The government will only bring other evidence that can link my client to this horrible crime; however, you will not see a single piece of physical evidence from the government,” deSaulles told jurors.
He asked jury members to be patient throughout trial, and keep an open mind so they can see the evidence the government is going to present; and the evidence will provide a clear picture of the case because his client is an innocent man. And for that reason, he asked the jury to find Thomas ‘not guilty’.
The trial resumes at 9:00am today.
Presiding is Associate Justice Fiti Sunia, assisted by Chief Associate Judge Mamea Sala Jr and Associate Judge Tunupopo Alalafaga Tunupopo.