“Spree argument” does not convince judge in case of the stolen chest freezer
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — An overstayer from Samoa convicted of burglarizing a home in Mapusaga Fou and stealing items from the home is going to jail. Satini Opeta was ordered by the High Court to serve 28 months at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF) as a condition of his 7 years probation.
Opeta, who was held in custody without bail due to his illegal immigration status appeared in Court last month for sentencing.
The government charged Opeta in two separate criminal cases.
In the first case, Opeta 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 the crime, up to a maximum of $20,000, or both such fine and imprisonment for each count.
In the second case, Opeta 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, Opeta pled guilty to the charge of 2nd degree burglary from the first case and 2nd degree from the second case.
With his guilty plea, Opeta admits that on Dec. 27, 2019, he forced his way into a home in Mapusaga Fou and stole a white freezer chest.
When given the chance to address the court, Opeta apologized for his actions and begged for a chance to return home to be with his family. He stated that the 18 months he spent in jail taught him a good lesson that stealing people’s property is a dangerous crime.
The defense attorney asked the court for a probated sentence without an additional period of detention. He told the court that the 18 months his client served in TCF while awaiting the outcome of his case is enough for his crime.
It was just a ‘spree’ that has now ended, the defense attorney said.
The court disagreed and responded by saying that if the defendant had not been caught, the spree would have continued. The defense attorney emphasized to the court that his client got money illegally and he used these monies to take care of his own needs.
The prosecutor told the court that after looking at the facts of the case, the government is requesting that the court sentence the defendant to serve more time. The government attorney informed the court that the defendant’s first conviction was in 2009. He was placed on probation but it seems like he's not learned his lesson.
In delivering its decision, the Court 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 moved away because they don’t like the defendant’s behavior. Therefore, he is an illegal alien, and has been since 2018.
The Court explained the government’s argument for a longer period of detention in order to keep the defendant inside. However, for the issue of parole, a straight 7 years is not seven, it means, the defendant will serve 28 months before parole.
For the first count of 2nd degree burglary, Opeta was sentenced to 7 years imprisonment. For the second count of 2nd degree burglary, Opeta was sentenced to 7 years imprisonment. The imprisonments will run consecutively, meaning, Opeta 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 would be credited for the 18 months he 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 December 27, 2019, police got a call from a man reporting a burglary on March 26.
The man told police that his neighbor informed him that a red truck was parked behind his home, and people were carrying a white freezer chest onto the truck.
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.
On January 21st, 2020, the man's wife told police that she spotted the red truck the day before, while she was at a laundromat. She said she took photos of the truck and the driver, and sent them to the neighbor for confirmation. Another neighbor who lives behind the couple also confirmed the identity of the driver, and the truck he was driving on the day of the alleged burglary.
An inspection of the license plate of the truck revealed that the plates are registered to another vehicle, and therefore, the truck was operating with false plates.
An APB was put out for the truck, which was later stopped and escorted to the DPS Tafuna substation. The driver was identified as Taua Filiese, the same person in the photos taken by the victim's wife.
Filiese identified Opeta as person who stopped him and asked if he would help him pick up an icebox from Mapusaga Fou. He said that after they picked up the icebox from the victim's home, he dropped Opeta and the icebox off behind a residence in Iliili.
He told police that he suspects that Opeta stores all the items he steals in that shack.
According to police, Opeta is the primary suspect in at least 5 separate burglary investigations, and perhaps all the stolen items from those cases are stored in the shack in question. Opeta admitted to stealing the freezer.