Stowers not a drug dealer, says jury

However is guilty of possession
ausage@samoanews.com

A six-member jury delivered its verdict in the trial of Falaniko Stowers a.k.a. ‘Nicole’ last week.

Stowers, who is identified as a fa’afafine (transgender) in court documents, was found guilty of unlawful possession of crystal methamphetamine, but not guilty of unlawful possession with intent to distribute.

She didn't react much when the verdict was read.

Sentencing is set for Feb. 2, 2018.

Meanwhile, Stowers remains in custody, unable to post a $10,000 surety bond.

CLOSING ARGUMENTS

Prosecutor Woodrow Pengelly reminded the jury that the government’s duty is to present all the evidence to prove its case, while their job is to weigh all the evidence and return with a guilty verdict on both counts.

For the charge of unlawful possession of methamphetamine, Pengelly told jurors that two police officers, Det. Johnny Paselio and Det. Savelio Vaofanua truthfully testified that they stopped the defendant on Nov. 28, 2016 near the DPS central station in Fagatogo and found 6 cut-up straws in his possession.

Three of the six straws were sent off-island for testing by forensic chemist Annysia Martin at the DEA laboratory in Vista, California, and all three tested positive for methamphetamine.

Another element the government was trying to prove was that the defendant possessed methamphetamine, and he did it knowingly. Pengelly told the jury that when Paselio and Vaofanua stopped the defendant on said date, they both saw Stowers reach in to his rear pocket and remove something.

When Paselio asked the defendant what he was holding in his hand, the defendant said, “You know what it is”.

Paselio asked the defendant again what it was, and the defendant replied, “It's ice.” Pengelly reminded jurors about the testimony of Sepulona Sepulona Jr. who admitted under oath that he's a meth user, and he bought ice from the defendant regularly, including the day the defendant was arrested.

To prove the charge of unlawful possession with intent to distribute, Pengelly not only referred to Sepulona Jr.'s testimony, again, but he also reminded the jurors of Court Marshall Michael Nix’s testimony that he saw too many people and vehicles visiting the defendant’s home regularly.

Pengelly said the defense will argue that these people were there to fill out employment forms but according to Nix, the vehicles included taxis and government cars.

“Your duty is to weigh all the evidence of the case before you decide on your verdict. Remember, the defendant was caught by police with methamphetamine in his hand, and Sepulona said he was the defendant's regular customer. I ask you to find the defendant guilty of both counts,” Pengelly concluded.

When it was his turn, defense attorney Douglas Fiaui told jurors his client is innocent, as police never found a single drug on him or in his home when police searched it.

Fiaui said the government never produced any physical evidence to prove their burden, and all they had were pictures of the six cut-up straws they claim were found on Stowers, and pictures of baggies, straws, and broken glasses that were allegedly found in his client's house.

 Referring to Paselio’s testimony, Fiaui said Paselio was under pressure after he searched Stowers twice and found nothing in his possession. Fiaui said Paselio needed to find something to make Stowers look like someone who was selling ice.

He said Paselio was assigned to do surveillance on Stowers for over two months and during that time, Paselio didn’t use a pen or a book, he didn’t use a camera nor did he open his mouth to question any person he claimed was going to and from Stowers' house.

Fiaui said Paselio was looking for an answer to give his boss and those who gave him the assignment.

Moving on, Fiaui bashed yet another government witness, Sepulona Jr.

Fiaui called him a liar, saying Sepulona Jr. initially stated that he never spoke with the government's attorney about his testimony but later, he admitted speaking to Pengelly about the case.

He dissected Sepulona Jr's statement that he bought ice from Stowers the same week Stowers was arrested. Fiaui said that's a lie, because Stowers was in Apia that week, and he arrived the same day police arrested him.

The defense also questioned why the government only sent 3 cut-up straws off-island for testing, although they claimed there were 6 cut-up straws that were found on Stowers.

In the end, Fiaui explained why Stowers was not called to testify.

"Nicole has the right to remain silent, because the government has the duty to prove their burden, not us."

He said to jurors, “You have the power here. You have the power to say no to what the government is trying to do in this case. We don’t want people in our community to be treated like this. Your vote is your power. Use that power to say no and find Nicole not guilty on both counts.”

(Samoa News should point out that the defense throughout the trial referred to Stowers by his transgender name, ‘Nicole’, while the government identified the defendant only by his birth or male name.)

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