Father Demands Answers, “Is it Because We Are Poor and Without Status?”

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“Is it because we are poor and without status that this has happened?” asks a Vaiusu father who had turned up to Motootua National Hospital in November 2019 to find his son beaten beyond recognition.

Faileaso Penetito Toma, just 20 years old, died at Motootua National Hospital on the same day he was beaten. It was not a Happy Chirstmas for Asiloto Toma and this year, his Christmas joy has been robbed once again

Just over two years after Faileaso’s violent death  the former police prosecutor who had been charged with manslaughter is handed a discharge without conviction.

Asilotu in his humble home, asks, Is it because we are poor and without status?

Asiloto lives in a faleoo with his wife and children. He is now asking himself, would this have happened if his son were from a well known family in Samoan society?

Home of Asilotu and his wife Malia. Faileaso Penetito was their third of five children.

“Even though this (Court) decision has caused me so much pain, I forgive them, and I place it all before God Almighty”.

“Atonu ai o le matou lima vaivai ma le lē taualoa ua mafua ai.. E ui ina tiga lenei faaiuga ua aumai, ua lava ia lea, ua ou faamagalo iai, ae tuu ia i luma o Le Atua Soifua.”

Those are the words of Asiloto Mamoe Toma, a father who sat in Court on Friday 17th December, one week before Christmas, to hear District Court Judge Leota Raymond Schuster hand down discharges without conviction and $500 tala fines as the only  consequence for two men originally charged with manslaughter for the death of his son.

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Asiloto holds back tears as he shares with Samoa Global News his pain of the past two years – attending every single court proceeding, eagerly awaiting justice to be carried out against two men charged with beating his son to death.

Asiloto was seen sitting quietly at the back of the Courtroom each and every time the matter was called in the past two years. He says it has been a long journey of delays and rescheduled court hearing dates. Today, Asiloto remains in utter disbelief that it has all just resulted in both men “being let off, as if nothing happened”.

Stanley and Ulugia outside Court, 2020.

Asiloto seeks justice for his son’s death. “So are they saying that my son did not die? Are they saying that these two men just slapped him around that day? That they didn’t beat him so badly that his face was left unrecognisable, his cheeks left flapping on his face, and his whole body bruised with so many broken bones?” asks Asiloto.

“My son’s stomach was soft, his ribs were not showing, telling me that the people who did this to him had broken every one of his ribs,” explains Asiloto. The 67 year old father of five was unable to hold back tears, and openly cries as he recalls the trauma he and his wife found their son in, when they arrived at Motootua National Hospital that day.

“O lona manava, ua pei se aluga le vaivai, ua leai ma se ivi e malo, ua gaui uma, o le pine faamau lena e iloa ai le matautia o le fasi sa fasi ai e nei tagata si ou atalii, a’o lea ua sau le faaiuga e solofua!..”

Asiloto and his wife recall the day their son had died. They were visited by Police at around 10am on a Saturday morning to tell them they should come to Motootua Natioal Hospital, because “a person from your family” had been taken to the hospital.

“Fai mai matou te o atu e vaai le matou tagata o loo i le falemai”.

As parents, they immediately knew it was their third child, their son Faileaso Penetito, because he had gone out with friends the night before and hadn’t returned home.

His parents say that at the time of his death, he was a student at Don Bosco. They do not deny that their son mixed with the “difficult youth” (tupulaga faigata tele) of their village of Vaiusu, but whatever had happened that night, the grieving parents say their son did not deserve to die the way he had.

“When we arrived I was shocked to see my son lying there,” Asiloto shared with Samoa Global News. “As soon as I saw the state of my son’s injuries, I knew my boy could never recover..”

“Ina ua matou taunuu i le falemai.. O’u vaai atu iai, e le toe foi i se lelei lo’u atalii”.

The 67 year old father of five said his son had multiple visible head injuries. His face was swollen beyond recognition, and his body was covered in cuts and bruises. Demonstrating with his hands, Asiloto said he could lift up his son’s cheeks, hanging like flaps off his face.

“It was hard for me to look at my son, and I could tell from the state of his injuries that whoever had done this to my boy, had to have used a hard object as a weapon to beat him with”.

“E le tasi se ka’e poo se foa i le ulu o si o’u atalii. O ona foliga ua matua’i afaina lava ua leiloa atu poo ia lea e taoto mai. Ae o lona tino atoa, ua matuai afaina lava. Sa matua’i faigata ia te a’u ona ou vaai atu i lo’u atalii, aua sa iloa atu lava i le ogaoga o manuaga, o se mea malo sa faaoga e nei tagata e sasa ai o ia”.

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Faileaso’s parents said their son died on that same Saturday night, less than 12 hours after he was brought to the hospital by Police.

The timeline of court proceedings since late 2019 has been well reported. Former police prosecutor Khamtan Stanley and co-defendant Ulugia Lomalasi were jointly charged with manslaughter in relation to the death of 20 year old Faileaso Penetito soon after the boy’s death in November 2019. According to Deputy Commissioner Auapaau Logoitino Filipo, that is the result of their police investigation into the matter, when the file was handed to the AG’s office for prosecution.

It was alleged that the defendants locked the boy up in their Vaiusu home, and gave him a good beating in the early hours of the morning, after Faileaso had allegedly broken into their home.

According to Faileaso’s father, his son’s friend testifies otherwise. He says they were walking along the road, heading home from a drink-up when Stanley called out to them and sent for them. “This other youth said they took Faileaso into their home, tied him to a chair and beat him.. he could see it all from outside, through the window”.

“They said my son had robbed them, but we will never know now because there isn’t going to be a Court case to determine the truth,” said the grieving father.

“E leiloa poo lea le sa’o aua o lea ua le faia se faamasinoga.. ou te matua ofo lava i lenei faaiuga faapenei, o le oti o le tagata, ae solofua le faamasinoga”.

Asiloto is asking what happened to the coroner’s report from his son’s post mortem operation. “They brought in the doctor from overseas and he performed an operation on my son, and then they said they don’t know where the results are..”

“Sa aumai foi le fomai mai fafo faatino le taotoga, ae uma ifo sau le tala, ua fiu e fesootai le fomai sa faia le ta’otoga, ua leiloa poo fea na tuu ai le faaiuga o le ta’otoga. Talofa o lea ua solofua le faaiuga, ae le mafai ona galo ia a’u foliga o si ou atalii”.

On the basis that Sergeant Stanley had been part of the Attorney General’s prosecution team for over 10 years, the AG’s Office declared its conflict of interest early in the process. Former AG Taulapapa Brenda Heather-Latu was brought in as private prosecutor, however, Taulapapa resigned in April 2021, and the AG’s Office confirmed that Leinafo Taimalelagi-Strickland would be taking over the case. This was on the 12th of April 2021, just before the Courts had to reprioritise their schedule due to post-election petitions and constitutional cases.

Leinafo Taimalelagi Strickland outside Court. Photo: Maina Vai.

When the dust settled after Samoa’s four-month long political crisis, the prosecution of Khamtahn Stanley and co-defendant Ulugia Lomalasi had dropped out of the Supreme Court listing. Then last month, SGN reporters following the case found it had been taken down to the District Court. The two defendants had pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of Actual Bodily Harm (ABH) in the District Court, and were asking for a Discharge Without Conviction. The pair were scheduled to be sentenced on Monday 15th November, however, on that day, sentencing was adjourned to the following week.

The following week, sentencing was again adjourned, and then again the week after that. Asiloto Toma was seen sitting quietly at the back of the Courtroom each time.

Eventually on Friday morning, 17th December, while most media were covering the swearing in the of the LTC Deputy President in the Lands and Titles Court, the District Court finally decided to hand down the sentence, granting a Discharge Without Conviction to Stanley and Ulugia. They were each ordered to pay $250 tala towards court costs and $250 tala to police. A total of $500 tala each.

Outside Court on Friday 17 December 2021.

Outside Court the two men celebrated with their families and lawyers. It would be a good Christmas for them. Asiloto said he was approached by Stanley and Ulugia on that day outside Court. They gave him $100 tala for transport costs and said they would come by to see him.

“Sa aumai le $100 tala fai mai ou te pasese ai, ma fai mai matou te feiloai i se taimi”.

Asiloto says his children and family overseas have asked him to take the matter further, however, he says that would only bring more heartbreak, and cost them money they do not have. His wife adds that Asiloto has frequented the hospital and has not been well since the decision was handed down.

“It has taken its toll on him, and he’s been in and out of hospital since the Court decision”.

Speaking from his small faleoo at Vaiusu where he lives with this wife and children, Asiloto says he does not have the money nor the energy to take the matter any further, and has decided to forgive the men who beat his son to death.

“I place my revenge before God, who is a just God. I forgive them, and put everything before God,” says Asiloto.