Overstayer convicted after breaking into a house and hauling away a chest freezer
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — An overstayer from Samoa convicted of burglarizing a home in Pavaiai is going to jail. Sitivi Opetaia was ordered by the High Court to serve 28 months at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF) as a condition of his 7-year probation.
Opetaia, who was held in custody without bail due tot his illegal immigration status appeared in High Court last week for sentencing. He was represented by Assistant Public Defender Ryan Anderson while prosecuting the case was Assistant Attorney General Kristine Soule.
The government charged Opetaia with two separate criminal cases.
In the first case, Opetaia was charged with one count of 2nd degree burglary and one count of stealing, both class C felonies, punishable by imprisonment of up to 7 years, a $5,000 fine or pursuant to A.S.C.A 46.2101, a fine equal to twice the amount of gain from the commission of said crime, up to a maximum of $20,000, or both such fine and imprisonment for each count.
In the second case, Opetaia was charged with one count of 2nd degree burglary and one count of stealing, both class C felonies.
However, in a plea agreement with the government, accepted by the court in November of last year, Opetaia pled guilty to the charge of 2nd degree burglary from the first case and 2nd degree from the second case.
With his guilty plea, Opetaia admits that on Mar. 25, 2019, he forced his way into a home in Pavaiai and stole a white chest freezer.
When given the chance to address the court, Opetaia apologized for his action and begged for a chance to return home to be with his family. He stated that the 21 months he has spent in jail has taught him that stealing is a dangerous crime.
Defense attorney Anderson asked the court for a probated sentence without an additional period of detention. Anderson told the court that the 21 months his client served in TCF while awaiting the outcome of his case is enough for his crime.
Anderson explained to the court that his client’s action — a robbery spree — just happened during a short period of time. He emphasized to the court that his client got money in the wrong way and he used this money to take care of his family needs.
The court disagreed. Chief Justice Michael Kruse responded that if the defendant had not been caught, the spree would have continued.
Prosecutor Soule told the court that after looking at facts of the case, the government requested the court to let the defendant serve more detention. Soule informed the court that the defendant’s first conviction was in 2008. He was placed on probation but it seems like he has not learnt his lesson.
“He’s done 21 months. That’s not enough?” the court asked the government’s attorney, adding, “Are you talking about a straight sentence?”
Soule responded, “Yes Your Honor.”
The Court explained to the government’s attorney that the court learned in school that there are two ways to deal with sentencing — either a straight sentence plus parole or jail plus probation.
After a recess, the CJ informed the defense attorney that his “spree argument” is not very persuasive because the defendant has a criminal history with the court.
Also not persuasive was the defendant hiding behind his family. Probation stated that the defendant’s wife and children had move away because they didn’t like the defendant’s behavior. Therefore, he has been an illegal alien since 2019.
The Court explained the government’s argument for a long period of detention is to keep the defendant inside. However, for the issue of parole, straight 7 years is not seven, it means the defendant will serve 28 months before parole.
For the first count of 2nd degree burglary, Opetaia was sentenced to 7 years imprisonment. For the second count of 2nd degree burglary, Opetaia was sentenced to 7 years imprisonment. The imprisonment will run consecutively, meaning, Opetaia will serve 14 years at the TCF.
However, the Court suspended the execution of sentence and the defendant was placed on probation for 7 years subject to several conditions.
The defendant was ordered to serve a period of detention of 28 months. He was credited for the 21 months he has already served. Upon serving his period of detention and the borders open to travel, the defendant is ordered to depart the territory and remain outside of its borders for the remaining period of probation.
The Court advised the defendant that once he violates any condition of his probation while he’s still in the territory, he’s looking at 14 years behind bars.
On March 25, 2019, police got a call from a man reporting a burglary on March 25. The man told police that his neighbor informed him that an orange colored truck was parked behind his home, and people were carrying a white chest freezer onto the truck. The man said when he arrived he discovered that his white freezer was gone.
It was the neighbors who described the vehicle to the man, who, through his own investigation, was able to determine that truck's license plate number, with a photo of the driver.
An APB was put out for the orange truck, which was later stopped and escorted to the DPS Tafuna substation. The driver was identified as Faalataua Taua’i. According to what Taua'i told police, he was on his way from behind a home in Vaitogi/ Iliili when Opetaia approached him and asked if they could pick up an icebox from Pavaivai. He said that after they picked up the icebox from the victim's home, he dropped Opetaia and the icebox off behind a residence in Vaitogi.
According to police, Opetaia is the primary suspect in at least 5 separate burglary investigations. Opetaia admitted to stealing the freezer in this new case.