Court forfeits bail for drug offender Sonny “Mu” Kelemete
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Chief Justice Michael Kruse has granted the government’s motion to forfeit Sonny “Mu” Kelemete’s bail for failing to comply with conditions of his release on bond while his case is pending in court.
Kelemete, who is serving a 40-month term at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF) for a drug conviction, appeared in court this week for a bail hearing. Prosecuting was Assistant Attorney General Christy Dunn, while Public Defender Michael White represented Kelemete.
Dunn argued that Kelemete failed to comply with conditions of his release on bond. According to her, Kelemete was first charged with unlawful possession of drugs and a firearm, after cops found drugs and a weapon inside his vehicle on July 7, 2017.
Following his initial appearance in District Court, Kelemete was released on a $5,000 surety bond under several conditions — remain law abiding and make all his court appearances.
Two months after, Kelemete was arrested again. This time, he was charged with unlawful possession of methamphetamine. Dunn said Kelemete’s vehicle was pulled over in Iliili for a loud muffler. When informed about why he was stopped, Kelemete’s demeanor changed. Cops tackled him to the ground to prevent him from running, and he was placed under arrest.
K-9 units conducted a sniff search of the vehicle and alerted to the driver's side door, giving police probable cause to search both the vehicle and Kelemete.
A body search netted 9 small baggies inside Kelemete’s pant pocket that contained a white substance, which tested positive as meth. Several empty baggies and $90 cash were also found in Kelemete's pocket. He was released on a $30,000 surety bond after he was charged in District Court on Sept. 5, 2018.
Dunn told the court it is clear from the evidence that Kelemete committed another crime while he was released on bond, awaiting the outcome of two criminal cases against him in High Court.
Earlier this year in August, Kelemete violated another condition of his release on bond, when he failed to appear in court for a pretrial conference. Two people — both females — who put up their vehicles for Kelemete’s surety bond also appeared in court during this week’s hearing. They are: Mary Letuligasenoa and Kelemete’s sister, Toreka Brown.
Chief Justice Michael Kruse informed the two females that the hearing was called because the government is asking the court to forfeit Kelemete’s bond, claiming he failed to comply with conditions of release set by the court.
Kruse told the two females that the government is asking the court to take both of their vehicles because Kelemete did not comply with conditions of his release on bond.
When given the chance to speak, Letuligasenoa told the court that she put up her vehicle for Kelemete’s bond because she wanted to help him get out while awaiting the outcome of his case. She then asked the court for leniency, saying she needs her car.
Brown told the court that she put up her vehicle for Kelemete’s bond out of love, with the understanding that Kelemete was going to comply with all the conditions of his release. She told the court she really needs her car for her family, not only to transport her kids to school, but in case someone — even herself — gets sick and needs help.
Kruse explained to Letauligasenoa and Brown that the court’s concern with these “faamolemole” is that, “our court system will not work if we don’t honor the bond agreement that we signed.” Kruse said that under Court Rules, the court shall forfeit bond if the defendant violates conditions of his/her release on bond. He added that the court has no discretion on these types of issues, because Court Rules are clear and the court shall act accordingly.
The Chief Justice reminded Letuligasenoa and Brown that when they signed the bond agreement with the government — granted by the court — they essentially agreed that the court decides what to do if Kelemete fails to comply with conditions of release on bond.
Kruse then granted the government’s motion and forfeited Kelemete’s bond. He told Letuligasenoa and Brown that if they want their vehicles back, they need to speak to the prosecutor about how much money they owed to the government — but the government can’t just release their vehicles to them because the court has already issued its order.
ISSUE OF BAIL
Kruse raised the issue regarding bail, and also the incident whereby Kelemete failed to appear in court a few months ago. Kruse reminded the defense that when Kelemete was initially released on bond, he committed another crime. Subsequently, he was released again, on a $30,000 bond, and he failed to appear in court.
Kruse recalled the testimony of a former Public Defender’s Office investigator, Eddie Fruean, who stated that Kelemete missed his court appearance because he was visiting his doctor. Kruse said the court found out later that Fruean’s sworn testimony was a lie.
The court will hear the issue on Kelemete’s bail at a later date. The government is instructed to inform the person who put up their vehicle to bail Kelemete out, about the hearing.