Prosecution moves to consolidate three murder charges into one trial
Associate Justice Lyle L. Richmond, who was accompanied on the bench by Associate Judge Mamea Logoai has taken under advisement a motion by the government to consolidate the cases of three men charged in connection with the beating death of Sio Faumui, also known as Chico, during summer last year in Malaeimi.
The defendants Nemaia Poamo, Migo Misa and Sefo Siaulaiga — aka Raponi Siaulaiga — are each charged with murder in the second degree. Deputy Attorney General Mitzie Jessop Folau in her motion says that all three defendants are facing the same charge for the same offense, in which the government proffers that on June 4, 2011 all of the three defendant’s conduct knowingly caused the death of the victim.
The motion states that the applicable statute pertaining to joinder is rule eight of the territorial rules of criminal procedures, which is as follows: “(b) Joinder of defendants. Two or more defendants may be charged in the same information if they are alleged to have participated in the same act of transaction or in the same series of acts or transactions constituting an offense or offenses. Such defendants may be charged in one or more counts together or separately and all of the defendants need to be charged in each count”.
The Deputy Attorney General in her motion states that although the government did not file these cases with one information, the underlying facts are the same. All three cases arise out of the same act or transaction which constitutes the offense on the day the alleged incident occurred.
The motion goes on to say that all three cases involve a number of the same witnesses and there should be a joined trial to ensure justice and fairness to all three defendants.
Folau in her motion stated that holding one jury as opposed to three would also aid in conserving prosecutorial and judicial resources.
Siaulaiga’s lawyer David Vargas submitted to the court a memorandum opposing the government’s motion. In his motion Vargas said that the defendant opposes the joinder for the simple reason that trial of the three defendants together would be unduly prejudicial.
Vargas stated that the motion to consolidate was untimely and the consolidation rule (rule13 of the Trial court of rules of Criminal procedures) was not appropriate because the offenses are “separate, distinct and occurred at different times.”
The opposition motion states that Siaulaiga would take the stand and testify the facts and the circumstances leading up to the murder charge if tried separately. If the cases are joined for trial, Siaulaiga would be faced with the untenable position of either not being able to tell his side of the story, or an inability to cross-examine the other co-defendants who will undoubtedly decline to testify. Consequently Siaulaifa would be confounded (or confused) by the anticipated defense if the other defendants testified that he alone was responsible for the victim’s death.
The defense lawyer in his opposing motion suggested that if the court wishes to grant the government’s motion, the court should first examine ‘in camera’ (in chambers, without attorneys present) the oral and written statements made by each defendant before ruling on the motion.
The defense motion also states that the interest to judicial economy must yield to Siaulaiga’s right to a fundamentally fair trial.
If the defendants are tried together, Vargas believes that the jury could find Siaulaiga guilty by association, or due to the jury being confused. Siaulaiga would be confounded in his ability to defend the murder charge, as to do so would result in a waiver of his right to remain silent with regard to the charge against him.
Assistant Public Defenders Leslie Cardin and Michael White told the court that they join Vargas in his motion to oppose the government’s move to consolidate the cases against their clients.
Richmond said the court ruling should be issued in writing and took the government’s motion under advisement.
The three defendants are alleged to have assaulted the victim using their hands, rocks and a beer bottle. Thirty-year-old Chico was left lying unconscious about 15 feet from the main road in Malaeimi on an early Sunday morning, and was discovered with multiple injuries to his face, a huge laceration on the lower part of his chin, a swollen lip and missing teeth.
When police found Chico his face and head were covered in blood.
The defendants are in custody on bail of $100,000 each and it’s alleged they admitted to police that they assaulted Faumui, according to the court affidavit.