Trial begins for church pastor accused of sexual acts with his 13-yr-old biological daughter
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The jury trial of a man facing multiple sexual abuse charges involving his 13-year-old biological daughter began yesterday in High Court.
Samoa News is withholding the name of the man to protect the identity of the victim, who is a minor. According to information revealed in court yesterday, the defendant is the victim’s biological father; however, the victim was adopted by another family when she was born.
The defendant, who is a pastor at one of the local churches on the west side, is charged with sodomy, first degree sexual abuse, deviate sexual assault, and incest — all felonies — and one misdemeanor charge of endangering the welfare of a child.
A six-member jury, three females and three males, was selected Monday to hear the case.
Prosecuting the case is Assistant Attorney General Robert Morris, assisted by Assistant Attorney General Jason Mitchell and lead investigator, Sgt. Misi Leo, while representing the defendant is Assistant Public Defender, Rob McNeill, assisted by Assistant Public Defender, Ryan Anderson and lead investigator, Paepaetele Suisala Jr.
PROSECUTOR’S OPENING ARGUMENTS
Morris told jurors the government’s case is about a man who is charged for sexually abusing his biological daughter. He warned jurors that some of the facts they will hear will make them uncomfortable but he urged them to consider all the facts, from beginning to end.
According to Morris, the case against the defendant came to light on Dec. 6, 2016 when the victim went to visit her biological parents and spend the night with them at their home in Tafuna.
The victim slept with her biological parents, along with her biological sisters in one bedroom on the night of the alleged incident.
Around 4a.m, the victim’s biological mother and her sister left the house for work, leaving the defendant and the victim alone in the room. And it was then that, according to the government, the defendant sexually abused his daughter.
The government claims that after the alleged abuse, the minister told his daughter that he does not want her to have a boyfriend.
When the victim left her biological parents' home later that morning, she went home and told her adoptive mother what happened.
Police were notified and the girl was taken to the LBJ for a check up.
Morris told jurors that they will not hear from the victim or her adoptive mother during trial, because they are in San Francisco right now. The victim does not wish to testify because she does not want to relive what happened.
A few months ago, the girl was in the territory and she provided a sworn statement about the alleged abuse.
Morris explained that he questioned the victim, who was cross examined by the defense attorney.
“This is a very easy case for you to decide. The facts you’ll hear will give you a clear picture of what exactly happened,” Morris told jurors.
He added that the government will call several witnesses, including police officers, and a doctor from the LBJ, who will testify about the results of the examination conducted on the victim.
According to Morris, lead investigator, Sgt. Leo will testify that the defendant confessed and confirmed what the victim told police. The defendant also signed a written confession.
McNeil, in his opening remarks, said this is not a sex case; rather, it is about a young girl who was caught up between two different worlds. The first world gave her privileges with her adoptive family, while the second world was set on Samoan traditions and the value of love.
McNeill, who arrived in the territory two weeks ago, told jurors he’s honored to represent the defendant, who is a father of five and a pastor at one of the local churches.
He said the case is about very poor decisions made by a young girl, and a flawed and failed investigation that tore a good family apart.
To find about what really happened, McNeill told jurors they need to know both parties.
According to him, the victim was not legally adopted by her new parents. They were also not the legal guardians. In fact, the contradiction in the relationship between the victim and the two families is one of the reasons why the case ended up in the hands of police.
McNeill said the alleged incident did not occur on Dec. 6, 2016, In fact, he said, it was September that same year, when the victim visited her biological family after she moved to American Samoa from California.
Sometime between September and December 2016, the victim stayed with her biological family, but other times, she stayed with her adoptive family. Both families love the victim.
On the night of Dec. 5, 2016, the victim’s biological parents advised her about the length of her dress.
McNeill told jurors that his client’s family slept in one bedroom, even when the victim visited, she too slept with the family in the same bedroom.
On the morning of the alleged incident, the victim’s mother and sister left for work at about 3a.m, while the other children, including the victim’s sister and brothers, along with their father (defendant) and the victim, were still sleeping in the room.
Between 3a.m and 7a.m, McNeill said his client was never alone with the victim in the room. His other children were also present.
McNeill said when police interviewed the victim, she told them that she was screaming and begging her biological father to stop. However, when the victim provided her sworn statement a few months ago, she said she never screamed during the time of the alleged incident.
She said she was normal and after her father sexually abused her, she got up, took a shower, and went home to tell her adoptive mother.
The trial resumes at 9a.m today.
The case is being heard by Chief Justice Michael Kruse, assisted by Associate Judges Faamausili Pomele and Muasau Tasina Tofili.