Tonga cops in territory to escort Fletcher back on murder charges
Assistant Attorney General Jerard Murphy yesterday informed the District Court that police officials from the government of Tonga are in the territory to escort Dean Fletcher back to the island kingdom where he is wanted for the alleged murder of his wife this year.
Fifty-three-year-old Fletcher was officially charged Oct. 4 in the local District Court with one misdemeanor count of unlawfully entering and landing at the Port of Pago Pago on Oct. 3 without clearance from port officials. The crime is punishable by one-year in prison or a fine of $1,000.
According to Tonga-based Matangi Tonga online news, Fletcher escaped from Tonga police custody late last month in Neiafu while awaiting arraignment on murder charges. He left Tonga on his own yacht, the Sea Oak, chased by the police who were unable to apprehend him in Tongan waters.
Tonga Police Commissioner Steve Caldwell is quoted by Matangi Tonga as saying extradition proceedings have began between the Offices of the Attorney General in American Samoa and Tonga as well as the US Justice Department. (Samoa News has not been able to obtain comments from the Justice Department on this case.)
Fletcher has been held in the territory without bail at the Territorial Correctional Facility because Tongan authorities want him. During a status hearing yesterday, the court was informed about Tongan officials on island.
However, Murphy was unable to provide any additional information to the court about the Tongan authorities or the next step that ASG will seek on this case. Therefore the government moved to continue the status hearing for another week while the government works on resolving the local case, through a plea agreement.
Samoa News understands the proposed agreement would have the government move to dismiss the local charge against the defendant, who would then agree to return to Tonga to answer to any criminal charges pending there.
As Murphy tried to explain to the court that the government needed another week to finalize the plea agreement, which involved Tonga government officials, District Court Judge Fiti A. Sunia quickly interjected, asking if the officials from the government of Tonga are involved in the plea agreement, to which Murphy replied “yes”.
Sunia told Murphy that if there is any other matter pertaining to Fletcher outside of the current case, then the government must file with the court the appropriate motions, which provide an explanation. He said the court’s calendar of cases to be heard should not be affected just because there are officials on island from the Tonga government.
The District Court judge said the court is only concerned with the current case against Fletcher as well as protecting the rights of the accused and anything new must be filed with the court in writing.
Sunia then continued the hearing to Nov. 2
(Original Samoan story published in Lali section in today’s Samoa News.)