Matai defends former teacher; sentencing delayed
Sentencing for 26 year-old former teacher Tone Pulou, who admitted in court he had a sexual relationship with his 13 year-old student, has been continued to next week Tuesday.
The continuance came after Uto’ofili Asofa'afetai Maga, sa'o of Pulou’s family took the stand last week Wednesday as a character witness for Pulou.
Pulou offered his apologies at the beginning of the sentence hearing to the court, the government, his church, his spiritual parents (who were present), his family, siblings and his parents for his actions.
He also apologized to the victim and her family and told the court he is truly remorseful and he would abide by the law and not commit any further crimes.
Following his apologies the defendant asked the court for a second chance so he can return home and continue his service to the church and his village, care for his family and parents, especially now that he has an additional responsibility as the father to a baby boy.
“Please give me the opportunity to return home so I can provide for my son,” pleaded Pulou.
Uto’ofili, a former Director of the Department of Health, was given the opportunity to speak on behalf of the defendant.
He identified himself as the head of the clan for the Uto’ofili family in Fagaitua, where the defendant, who is one of the family's untitled men, lives and serves him within their family and church.
Uto’ofili added that about three quarters of his family lives in Pagai, a neighboring village of Fagaitua, and whenever they hold meetings it’s Pulou’s responsibility to inform the results of the meeting to their family in Pagai.
Prior to the incident, Pulou was the family’s secretary, who records everything each time they have a family function (fa’alavelave) said the chief.
Uto’ofili said he depends on Pulou for his many talents pertaining to the culture.
Deputy Attorney General Mitzie Jessop Folau asked Uto’ofili if he is familiar with the victim or her family. Uto’ofili replied he knows where they live but doesn’t know them personally. Folau asked Uto’ofili if he was aware of the family clan the victim belongs to and if he has had any interaction with that family within the village and the church. Uto’ofili replied yes.
Folau then asked Uto’ofili if he was aware that the victim was only 13 years of age when the incident occurred. Uto’ofili said he wasn’t aware of the details before however, he knows now the victim was 13 years of age.
Folau then asked Uto’ofili if he was aware that the defendant had admitted to having sexual intercourse with a 13 year-old child, saying, “He has pled guilty to rape and he also admitted to impregnating a 13 year-old child.”
Folau asked the matai, “Are you, as a matai, ok with that?”
Uto’ofili asked back, “ok with what?”
Folau rephrased her question, “Are you ok with the fact that he had sex with a 13 year-old child?”
Uto’ofili replied “I did not say in the beginning that it was ok with me. Things happen accidentally”.
Folau fired back, “So this was an accident?”
Uto’ofili replied “I guess so”.
Folau asked Uto’ofili if he condoned the defendant’s actions and Uto’ofili said. “Of course.” He said he doesn’t like this kind of action because “people don’t like this type of stuff.”
“Yet you’re singing praises for the defendant,” Folau said. Uto'ofili did not respond. Folau then asked Uto’ofili, “Do your praises remain the same?” now that he knows Pulou has pled guilty to raping a 13 year old child.
Uto’ofili fired back, “like I said earlier— I didn’t know. Whatever I said— let it be!”
Folau asked Uto’ofili, “Your opinion today and your testimony remain the same, even though you now know that the defendant has pled guilty to raping a 13 year-old child?”
“Absolutely!” replied Uto’ofili without hesitation.
Deputy AG Folau rested her questioning after which the judges called the prosecution and defense lawyers to the bench. After consultation, Associate Justice Lyle L Richmond continued sentencing to next week Tuesday and told defense lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Michael White, to advise his client about potential witnesses.
Pulou was initially charged by the government with rape, first degree sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a child however, in a plea deal with the government he pled guilty to rape while the government moved to dismiss sexual abuse in the first degree and endangering the welfare of a child.
Pulou admitted in court he had an ongoing relationship with his student which led to the girl’s pregnancy.
He admitted during the plea hearing last month that he started having sexual intercourse with his female student between September 2009 and February 2010.
The rape charge carries a sentence of five to 20 years in jail. According to the government’s case, the female student told police she had sexual intercourse with her teacher starting around September 2009 and ending in February 2010.
The matter came to light when the female student and her mother went to see the OBGYN clinic at LBJ Medical Center only to find out she was pregnant and then Child Protective Services with the Department of Human Social Services was contacted.
Pulou fled the territory to Australia last year when the government moved to file criminal charges. In October 2011, when Pulou visited relatives in Hawai’i, he was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation agents based on a warrant issued by the local District Court.
Associate Justice Lyle L Richmond presided, accompanied on the bench by Associate Judge Mamea Sala Jr.