Defendant enters not guilty plea after drinking session leads to manslaughter charge
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The autopsy results for a man from Vaitogi whose body was found lying on a bed in a pool of blood unresponsive inside an abandoned house in the early morning hours of May 16, revealed that a puncture in the left lung was the cause of death.
This was one piece of the evidence the government revealed during the preliminary examination (PX) of a 48-year-old man from Samoa residing in Vaitogi accused in the death.
Both the defendant, Tusi Fala and the victim, Filiki Tupuola were employees of the Titanic Cooperation in Vaitogi, owned by Sale Young.
Fala, who has been in custody since mid-May unable to post his $20,000 surety bond is charged with one count of manslaughter, a class D felony, punishable by imprisonment of up to 5 years, a fine of up to $5,000, or both.
Fala exercised his right to a PX, which was conducted before Associate Justice Elvis P. Patea last week. Fala is represented by Assistant Public Defender Bob Stuart while prosecuting the case is Assistant Attorney General Laura Garvey.
The government called their only witness to the stand during the PX, who was the lead investigator in this matter, Sgt. Claudya Mamea. According to the Sgt. Mamea, she, along with two other police sergeants worked together to investigate the death of Tupuola.
On the early morning of May 16th, 2020, Sgt. Mamea was called to come to the Tafuna Police Substation (TPS) to lead the investigation into this matter. When she arrived, she saw three male individuals inside the TPS conference room. They were Fala (defendant), Sone Salatielu and Tiuta Paolo, all employees of the Titanic Cooperation in Vaitogi.
Before Sgt. Mamea interviewed the three men, she was first briefed by another police sergeant about the case.
According to Sgt. Mamea’s testimony, it was 3:20a.m on the early morning of Saturday, May 16, 2020 when the TPS received a call from Paolo (an employee of the Titanic Cooperation in Vatogi) asking for assistance after he found the victim unresponsive, lying on a bed in a pool of blood inside a house.(See story in May 20, 2020 issue for details.)
Sgt. Mamea first interviewed the main witness in this case, Tiuta Paolo, who told police Fala, the defendant owed money ($20) to Tupuola, the victim. He said that Fala and Tupuola got into an argument about the money Fala owed, home, with Tupuola continuing to ask for his money, and Fala at one point telling the victim to go away before something happened. Paola said he intervened and tried to stop the argument.
At this point Fala walked away from the house, but with Tupuola yelling out to Fala, “you thief”, Fala came back toward the victim, holding a knife and pointing it at the victim and saying to him, “I will stab you with this knife if you talk to me again.”
Tupuola retaliated by saying, “I will stab you too if you continue to threaten me.”
That was when the second verbal argument between the two men erupted — and again Palo intervened and tried to stop the argument.
Paolo said that while the two men argued, they pointed their knives at each other and made threatening remarks that each one would stab the other one to death.
Paolo was able to separate the two men and immediately pushed Tupuola away and walked with him to the other side of the house. Paolo told Tupuola that they should go and play pool and leave Fala alone at the house.
However, according to Paolo, Fala followed them calling Tupuola names, who then walked back to Fala and the verbal argument immediately started all over again.
Fala told investigators he was shocked when the victim approached him with a knife in his hand and threatened to kill him. He got scared so he just turned to the refrigerator to get some water. When he turned around, the victim allegedly punched him in the face causing a minor laceration.
This got the defendant upset and he grabbed an audio speaker with the same hand he was holding the knife and threw both speaker and the knife towards the victim causing an injury to the victim’s chest and the victim fell backwards on the ground. Fala stated to police that when Tupuola hit the ground, blood gushed out of his chest.
Fala further told police that right after the victim fell on the ground, he (Fala) grabbed his beers and caught a lift from an aiga bus to go play pool at Kelemete’s residence in Iliili and stayed until closing time between 1 and 2 a.m on the morning of Saturday, May 16th.
WITNESS AT THE CRIME SCENE
After interviewing the three men, Sgt. Mamea visited the crime scene to locate the two knives and the speaker involved in the incident. According to the Sgt. Mamea’s testimony, she only found the speaker and the knife the victim was holding. She was unable to locate the knife the defendant allegedly used.
Paolo was interviewed by investigators again at the crime scene. He said he helped the victim onto the bed and he felt sorry for the victim so he wiped the blood from the victim’s chest and from the floor, not knowing that the victim’s injury was critical.
Before he left the victim’s house, he said he wanted to make sure the victim felt comfortable and gave him some food and water before leaving to go play pool and continue drinking his beers. At about 3a.m. he received a phone call from one of his co-workers (Salatielu) telling him that the victim was dead and he wanted to know what Fala had done to him (victim).
Paolo rushed to the victim’s house and touched his hand, but his hand felt hard and cold. That is when he contacted police for assistance.
THE AUTOPSY RESULTS
Dr. Gonzales, a pathologist at the LBJ Hospital conducted the autopsy to determine the cause of Tupuola’s death.
The autopsy results revealed that the knife blade went through the left lung causing a puncture on the side of the victim’s left lung. The autopsy also revealed that a sharp blade was found stuck in the rib bone of the victim.
In cross examination, defense attorney, Stuart asked Sgt. Mamea whether she observed the victim’s body at the crime scene. The witness said, no.
Stuart also asked the witness whether she questioned EMS personnel who transported the victim’s body, about whether the victim was still alive when they found his body inside the abandoned house. The witness said, no.
After hearing all evidence of the case, Acting Associate Justice Elvis P. Patea found probable cause to bind Fala’s case over to High Court.
Fala appeared in High Court this week for arraignment where he entered a not guilty plea to the single charge against him.
Pretrial conference is July 23rd.