Father Seeks Justice for His Son’s Death – Asks How Manslaughter Charges Were Dropped

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Asilotu Momoe Toma by his son's grave, Vaiusu.

A Vaiusu father is questioning how the charge of manslaughter has been dropped against former police prosecutor Khamtahn Stanley, in relation to the death of his 20 year old son.

Stanley and co-defendant Ulugia Lomalasi Laufili, both of Vaiusu, have maintained their innocence and made several appearances in the Supreme Court since the incident in November 2019.

However, this week both accused appeared before the lower District Court seeking a discharge without conviction, having pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of Actual Bodily Harm (ABH) in relation to the matter.

Asiloto Mamoe Toma said he was by his 20 year old son’s bedside at Motootua National Hospital when he died two years ago this month, in November 2019. According to Asiloto, his son had died from severe injuries to his head, face and body.

Faileaso Penetito Toma was the third child of Asiloto and his wife Malia. His parents say that at the time of his death, he was a Don Bosco student, but did mix with the “difficult youth” (tupulaga faigata tele) of their village.

Asiloto recalls that on the day his son died, police came to their home at Vaiusu at around 10am on a Saturday morning, to tell them they should come 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”.

They immediately knew it was Faileaso, because he had gone out with friends the night before and had not returned home.

Asiloto Mamoe Toma by his son’s grave.

“When we arrived I was shocked to see my son lying there,” Asiloto shared with Samoa Global News. Asiloto said the first thing that came to his mind when he saw the state of his son’s injuries, was that his boy would not 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 head injuries. His face was swollen beyond recognition, and his body was covered in cuts and bruises. He said it was hard for him to look at his son, because he could tell from the injuries that whoever did this to his boy, had to have used a hard object to beat him with.

“Matua faaletonu lava lona ulu. 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 matua’i faaletonu foi 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 that same Saturday night, less than 12 hours after he was brought to the hospital by Police.

On Monday this week, Asiloto was in Court when the matter was called again, this time, in the District Court. He listened as the two men originally charged with manslaughter in the Supreme Court for the death of his son, stood to confirm they had pleaded guilty to a much lesser charge of Actual Bodily Harm (ABH) and through their lawyers, applied to the Court for a discharge without conviction.

“Ou te matuā ofo lava i le maliu o lo’u atalii, ma le ogaoga o ona manuaga, ae o lea ua aumai i lalo i le Faamasinoga Faa-Itumalo. Ae o lea foi ua fai mai, e ono solofua le mataupu”.

Asiloto said he and his wife cannot understand how the prosecution of the men suspected for causing the death of their son, could have dropped down from the Supreme Court, to a common assault charge in the District Court.

“My son has died, and the injuries he sustained were grave and very serious,” said Asiloto. “So if these two men didn’t beat my son, who did?” he asked. “We can’t sit around as a family and have nobody take responsibility for my son’s death”.

Faileaso Penetito’s mom says she feels like their family have become a laughing stock in the eyes of the faa-Samoa because their son has died, and yet, no one has come to them with a traditional apology that would help them heal.

“We are like a family of fools. My son has died, and there has been no ifoga because it seems, no one is responsible for his death” she says. “And now we hear the case may just be swiped out as if nothing happened”.

“E oo mai i le taimi nei e faigata ona faagalo si a’u tama. A tuu lava i le tulaga lea e iai le matou aiga, ma le tatou faa-Samoa, ua pei e ulagia matou i lenei mataupu. Ua pei matou o se aiga vālea.. I le maliu o le mā tama, ae leai se ifoga, ae o lea foi ua fai mai o le a solofua le mataupu.

Stanley and Ulugia outside Court.

Background

Stanley and Ulugia were arrested by Police and jointly charged with manslaughter when the incident happened in November 2019.  At the same time, Sergeant Khamtahn Stanley was suspended as an Officer pending court proceedings.

Represented by defense counsels Afa Lesa and Steve Chan Chui, the defendants pleaded not guilty to manslaughter and have maintained their innocence throughout.

The defendants have made several appearances in the Supreme Court between the time of the incident in late 2019 and April 2021 when they appeared to file an application for a judge-only trial. At that time, the Supreme Court went as far as assigning a trial date of 20 September 2021 to the matter.

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, and Taulapapa Brenda Heather Latu was appointed independent counsel. However, in April 2021, Taulapapa withdrew as prosecutor, and Leinafo Taimalelagi-Strickland took over as independent counsel to prosecute the matter on behalf of Police.

Leinafo Taimalelagi Strickland outside Court. Photo: Maina Vai SGN.

Earlier this week, the two defendants appeared in the District Court where it was confirmed they had pleaded to the lesser charge of Actual Bodily Harm and were seeking a discharge without conviction at sentencing.

Circumstances leading to the manslaughter charge being dropped and the matter ending up in the District Court for common assault, are not clear.

Asked for a comment, Attorney General Su’a Hellen Wallwork confirms the Attorney General’s Office appointed an independent prosecutor to avoid any perception of special treatment for Mr Stanley. “I can confirm that our office has no influence on this case”.

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Su’a adds that she has complete confidence that Ms Leinafo-Strickland as independent prosecutor is discharging her prosecutorial duties without fear or favour. “She is an extremely competent senior counsel who is very experienced in criminal prosecutions”.

Asked for a comment, Deputy Police Commissioner Auapaau Logoitino Filipo says once the files are passed on to Prosecutors, the matter is out of their hands. He says Police had a solid case file of manslaughter against the two defendants.

The independent prosecutor is opposing the defendants’ application for discharge without conviction, and the matter will be called again on Monday 15 November 2021.

Asiloto Mamoe Toma says he will be in Court again next Monday.., “to see if there is going to be any justice for my son”.

The grieving father says despite his family having limited income and resources, he can’t sit back. “I will be asking if more can be done to make sure someone is held responsible for the death of my son”.

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