Judge Questions Police Investigation into Death of Newborn Baby

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Judge Alalatoa Rosella Papalii has questioned police investigations into the death of a newborn baby during the inquest to determine cause of death. Judge Papalii told the Investigating Officer (IO) that she found it hard to believe the child was still born, even suggesting that if he had been uncomfortable as a male to lead such investigations, then he should have transferred the file to a female officer.

A 24 year old mother was only charged for concealing the body of her newborn baby, while the charge of infanticide was withdrawn because according to Sergeant Tony Tevaga of the Police Criminal Investigation Division, “there was not enough evidence to support the charge”.

The mother was therefore convicted of ‘concealing the body of a newborn baby’, and  sentenced to 6 months supervision, 40 hours of community work, and further ordered to attend 12 weeks of counselling provided by Teen Challenge Samoa.

The incident happened on the 14th of September last year when the  body of a newborn  baby girl was found near an inland walkway in a village of the Aana District, at about 10am in the morning. This week, the matter was before the Coroner’s Court to determine cause of death.

The mother initially faced one count of concealing the body of a child and one charge of infanticide for intentionally killing her newborn baby, however, the charge of infanticide which carries a maximum penalty of 5 years, was later withdrawn by Police.

A warrant of arrest was issued against the defendant for failing to appear in Court, and a plea was not registered until five months later, in February 2021. By this time, the charges had been amended to only ‘concealing the body of a child’, which the 24 year old accepted. 

Two witnesses were called during the inquest this week. They both revealed they had found the baby under a tree, took her back to their home, and called the police. They testified that the baby’s body was still warm, suggesting she had not died too long before she was found. They told the Court they had found the newborn baby girl, laying next to a white a lavalava.  It had seemed as if animals, perhaps pigs, had gotten to her, but had not touched her body. Witnesses reiterated there were no injuries on the baby’s body, except a small part of the skin on her left leg that had scraped off (mafo’e).  Witnesses said the baby was found with her umbilical cord severed, with a fresh small amount of blood coming out. There was no blood on the baby or the white lavalava nearby.

The 24 year old defendant, however, told the Court that after giving birth, she placed the baby in a white lavalava without cutting the umbilical chord from the placenta. This was in direct contradiction to the witnesses who said there was not blood at all on the white lavalava they found beside the baby.

Judge Papalii questioned the lead police investigating officer, Tony Tevaga, as to why the second charge was dropped, when specific findings did relate to the charge of infanticide. 

Judge Papalii observed the infanticide charge was carried through Court proceedings for five months, until the 9th of February 2021.

“Why? If the charges were filed, it means there was evidence to support it,” said Judge Papalii.

“The charge sheet also verifies, you are the Investigating Officer confirming that infanticide was committed”.

“Lona uiga afai na faila mai o lona uiga sa iai mau e faatatau iai.”

“Lea fo’i e faailoa mai i le pepa o moliaga o oe le IO lea sa faamaonia sa commit le infanticide.”

Police Officer Tony Tevaga told the Court there was no evidence and relevant information the prosecution could rely on, and that is why they withdrew it.  A letter from the Office of the Attorney General dated 5th November 2020, asking police for information to rely on concerning the charge of infanticide.

The Court heard that the Investigating Officer never went to the crime scene, but depended on statements from witnesses for his findings. 

“There seems to have been something that pulled the baby’s body around at the crime scene, and yet, you did not go to investigate it?” asked Judge Papalii.

“E foliga mai e iai le mea lea sa fetosoa’ia si mea i le crime scene ae ete lei alu e vaai.”

Throughout the mother’s nine months of pregnancy she didn’t pay a visit to the doctor, because she was hiding everything from her parents. 

Judge Papalii also observed that the police file did not have a medical report from the doctor who had checked the baby’s body upon arrival to the hospital, nor was there a medical report that assessed the mother to confirm she had just given birth although this was clear by her own submission.  

Judge Papalii said it is hard for her to accept the baby was still born, or had died inside her mother’s womb.  

“If your investigation delved deeper into the issues I am raising now, for example, the blood from the umbilical chord was fresh, meaning she had just been born.. and if the umbilical chord was not cut from the placenta, there would have had to have been a lot of blood,” observed Judge Papalii.

Discussions

Justice Papalii told the Investigation Officer that if they, as men, are not comfortable with investigating a female, they should step aside and let a female officer take over.

“Afai e uncomfortable outou alii e suesue mea ia, ave ifo se tamaitai e faia le suesuega.”

Judge Papalii clarified that her role as a Coroner is to determine the death, not to request any other charges. She said the law is clear, however, her own examinations on this matter remain unclear.

Judge Papalii then turned to the defendant and advised her about the fear of pride that led her to conceal her baby and also think about taking her own life. 

“Vaai i le pepe o si alualutoto poo a tulaga maasiasi e le tatau ona avea lea ma tulaga e te alo iai mai lou tiute, o lau filifiliga sa fai-aiga ai ma le tama o le tamaitiiti e le tatau ona iai se faaiuga faapea i si alualutoto.”

She also advised the 24 year old’s parents concerning the issue of placing pressure on their children to avoid public shame. She said public shame and humiliation is not a cultural barrier, but something that is self-imposed.

“Parents, love your children, whatever wrong they do, nuture and love them still”. 


Maina Vai