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Tonga still pursuing murder suspect despite US release

Dean Jay Fletcher was arrested in Pago Pago [RNZI]

Tongan authorities will continue to pursue an American man wanted for murder despite his United States release.

An Hawaii court ordered the release of Dean Jay Fletcher who is alleged to have killed his wife in Vava'u.

Mr Fletcher fled Tongan authorities to American Samoa where he was arrested last October by US federal agents.

Tonga sought extradition but the US Secretary of State denied the request.

The US was worried that without a legal aid system, Mr Fletcher would not have legal representation or a fair trial.

But Tonga's acting Attorney General, 'Aminiasi Kefu, said the defendant had already hired lawyers before he fled.

The State Department was also concerned that Mr Fletcher could face the death penalty.

Mr Kefu said those fears were misplaced.

"We've never used that penalty since 1980 or '81 and there have been more gruesome murders than what's alleged against Fletcher where the courts have only imposed life imprisonment and the Crown has had no issue with that," he said.

"So we have tried to explain to our United States counterparts that it's very highly unlikely that Fletcher will receive the death penalty. It is a borderline case between a manslaughter case and a murder case."

Mr Kefu said the arrest warrant and indictment for Mr Fletcher remained in force.

The death penalty is currently used in 31 states in the US.