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Convicted burglar tells court: God was the reason he is in jail

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His wife says she put him there to teach him a lesson

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The man who was convicted of burglarizing a StarKist warehouse and NAPA told the High Court that God was the reason why he was arrested and put in jail, so that he could change his life and be a better person.

However, his wife told the court that she was the reason why her husband was put in jail as she wanted to teach him a lesson and show him how he should act in their family as a married man.

Tu’ua’ifuaina Va’apu’u appeared in court last Friday for sentencing. He was represented by Public Defender, Michael White, while prosecuting the case was Assistant Attorney General, Jason Mitchell.

The 31-year old was originally charged with 1st degree burglary and stealing, both class C felonies, however under a plea agreement with the government, which was accepted by the High Court last month, Vaapuu pled guilty to the amended charged with 2nd degree burglary.

With his guilty plea, Va’apu’u admits that on Mar. 31, 2018, he knowingly and unlawfully entered the StarKist Samoa Factory Warehouse building in Tafuna for the purpose of committing a crime. While he was inside the building, Va’apu’u admits that he took a computer with the value of $896, and a computer bag with the value of $30. Va’apu’u admits that these items belonged to somebody else.

Moreover, Va’apu’u also admits that on Mar. 1, 2018 in American Samoa, he knowingly and unlawfully entered the NAPA building in Tafuna with the purpose of committing a crime inside. While he was inside the building, he took one oil box with the value of $54 and vehicle parts with the value of $136.

When given the chance to address the court, the father of two, who has been in custody since his arrest, unable to post a $5,000 bond, told the court that he would never change his life until he changes his thoughts.

“All the time while I was in prison, I kept asking God why I am staying in prison. God spoke through my heart and revealed his Way to me, saying that He was the reason why I was in jail. He wanted to teach me a lesson so that I can become a better person,” Va’apu’u told the court.

He told the court that anything can happen for a reason, and he knows for sure that this is God’s plan for him, to put him in prison so that he can change his thoughts, his way and his whole life. He stated that searching God is the only way to change his ways and be a good husband for his wife and two little children.

Va’apu’u asked the court to grant him a second chance to go back home and care for his family. He said his family really needs him. He also promised that he would never appear in court in the future, this was his first and last appearance in court.

He apologized to the court for his actions and asked for forgiveness.

His wife was called to the witness stand to testify on behalf of her husband. According to the wife, her husband is a very difficult (faigata) person; and she put him inside TCF to teach him a lesson. During her testimony, she said she is the one that informed police of her husband’s illegal activities.

In the beginning, he was a good man who worked hard and took care of their family, she said, but unfortunately, she saw changes in his life and behavior, which affected the safety of their family.

She then asked the court to allow her husband a second chance so that he could come back home to help her take care of their family.

Speaking of his client, White told the court that his client is a changed man and he is a candidate for a probated sentence. He said his client has spent over 5 months in TCF, and he’s learned a good lesson while sleeping in the cell everyday.

“I see a huge change in my client’s life, not only the way he speaks but also the way he acts. I know for sure that he’s truly remorseful for his actions and wants to go back home to his family. However, if he commits a crime again, then he will face the consequences of his actions,” White told the court.

The prosecutor echoed White’s submission to the court, saying that the defendant is a suitable candidate for a probated sentence. Mitchell told the court that the defendant is a first offender, who takes full responsibility for his actions.

Before delivering his decision, Acting Associate Justice, Elvis P. Patea asked both attorneys to verify to the court the amount of restitution the defendant has to pay, in which Mitchell said that the full amount for restitution for items that were stolen from NAPA is $136.

“What about the laptop that was stolen from the StarKist warehouse,” Patea asked. Mitchell said that the laptop was returned to the owner.

Patea was not satisfied with the government’s answer. He stated that according to the Pre Sentence Report (PSR), the defendant told Probation that he sold the laptop to another person for $100.

In delivering his decision, Patea said that as the court has stated many times, no two cases are the same, and each case provides its own facts.

Patea said that a lot of times during sentencing, the court hears several types of statements from defendants. Some of them find it hard to speak to the court, however in this case, this defendant has a gift of speech, where he was able to deliver to the court his thoughts about why he was in jail.

“We heard this morning from your own words that you’re truly remorseful for what happened. Your attorney also told the court that same thing that you’re a changed man and want to prove to the court that you’ve truly changed,” Patea told the defendant.

“However, we find it hard to believe whether your words are true or not, when we reviewed the PSR and noticed that what you told your attorney was not the same thing you told Probation about the stolen laptop.”

The court then set as a condition of his 7-year probation that Va’apu’u is to serve a period of detention of 28 months, however, all but 8 months will be stayed. He was credited for a little over 5 months he has already served in prison. That means, the defendant has a little over 2 months to serve before he’s released from TCF.

He was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $136 for the items he stole from NAPA.