Tafuna High School teacher found not guilty in sex abuse jury trial
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The government's case against Sione Onelei Setu was dismissed this week after the jury found him not guilty of 1st degree sexual abuse.
It took a little over an hour for the jury to deliberate before they announced their not guilty verdict late Wednesday afternoon.
Setu, a math teacher at Tafuna High School (THS) didn’t react much when the verdict was read. He was only seen smiling while shaking hands with his defense attorney, Marcellus T. Uiagalelei.
The six-member jury — five females and one male — selected Monday to hear the case reviewed all the evidence and apparently believed the government failed to prove its case.
Prosecuting the case was Assistant Attorney General Christy Dunn, assisted by Assistant Attorney General Jason Mitchell.
Before the case was handed to the jurors for a decision, the government summarized their side, while the defense stuck to their main contention — that the government had failed to present any physical evidence to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.
Prosecutor Dunn told jurors that the case is about a teacher who went too far with a student.
“The victim went to the defendant and asked him for help with her homework but he took advantage. Not only did he take advantage of the situation, he took advantage of his position, and he also took advantage of her. He used her to arouse his own sexual desires,” Dunn argued.
“If we look at the evidence, it was not an accident when he touched her legs and rubbed her thigh. Not only did he lock the back door, block the classroom's side window using a writing board, but he also touched her chest area up to her breast and spoke to her in a low sexual voice.”
Dunn said the defendant never said sorry to the victim immediately after he touched her. It was only during the following day, that he pulled her out of her English class to speak to her, during which time he apologized and asked her to keep the incident a secret between them.
The prosecutor said the defendant could have explained the assignment to the victim without being alone with her in the classroom, but he chose to be alone with her to touch her.
Dunn said to the jurors, “You took an oath to follow the law, and the law states that if you believe that each element proves the case, find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."
When it was his turn, defense counsel Mr. Uiagalelei told jurors his client is innocent.
He said that at the start of trial, the government said they will prove that Setu is guilty of sexual abuse in the first degree.
“In support of that, they offer you the testimony of the alleged victim. According to the victim, Setu only touched her in the chest area, not her breast. She further told you that Setu also allegedly touched her on the legs, but not her private parts,” Uiagalelei told the jury.
“She admitted that she never used the word breast in her statement to the police, but it was, after the government followed up on their case.
“When asked about her conversation with the vice principal, the victim told you that she never mentioned in their conversation anything about Setu touching her breast and her legs.”
According to Uiagalelei, if the victim was scared when Setu allegedly touched her in the first place, why didn’t she stand up and leave the room right away?
“The government tried to convince you that it was Setu who planned the meeting with the victim, but the evidence proves that's not what happened. The facts of the case show that the victim was one of the six students who stayed behind to have their homework checked by Setu.”
Uiagalelei told jurors that Setu did not take advantage of the victim. He said the government claims that Setu covered the window with a writing board, but the evidence shows that all the windows inside the classroom were open. Anybody can look inside.
“If Setu wanted to take advantage of the victim, he would have locked both the back and the front doors. But he only locked the back door because he was ready to go out for lunch, and the front door was left unlocked.
Uiagalelei pointed to the government's claim that Setu went to the victim the next day to apologize to her, and said his client did something that no one can do, and that is: face his accuser.
“He asked her why she was spreading these rumors about him, and according to the victim’s testimony, she didn’t respond to the question. Her failure to respond proves that nothing happened,” Uiagalelei told jurors.
In closing, Uiagalelei asked the jury to set aside any emotions and feelings they may have, but review all the evidence of the case, and give Setu a fair trial by finding him not guilty of the charge against him.