Trial of Four Men Charged with Murder Begins in Supreme Court

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Tuesday 14 June 2022, Apia Samoa. The trial of four men from Sapulu, Faleasiu charged with the murder of fellow villager, Pei Aumalii in February 2018 began on Monday before Justice Tafaoimalo Leilani Tuala-Warren in the Supreme Court of Samoa. 

Sarona Ponifasio with her client Peato Upu

Puka Wesley, Faasipa Matuu, Milo Lilomaiava and Peato Upu are all jointly charged with murder, with the alternative charge of manslaughter.

All four defendants have maintained their not guilty pleas. Each with a separate lawyer to represent them, all four young men vehemently deny the allegations and the police summary of facts.

Fuimaono Sarona Ponifasio is representing Peato Upu. Unasa Iuni Sapolu is representing Milo Lilomaiava. Ann Matalasi of Leavai Law appeared for Faasipa Tupu while Tanya Toailoa appeared for Kupa Wesley.

Leota Tima Leavai with her client, Faasipa Matuu

Eighteen witnesses are expected to take the stand in a trial that could possibly continue to next week.

With four defense counsels, the Court was only able to get through one police witness on the first day – the investigating officer who provided photos of the deceased and set out the site plan of the alleged crime scene. 

The incident occurred in February 2018, and has taken four years to be heard before the Courts because of preliminary matters which ended up in the Court of Appeal.


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The case was set to be heard two years ago in June 2020, however on that day, one of the defendant’s lawyers objected to three of the five assessors. Additionally, three defense counsels had also submitted applications to challenge the cautioned statements of their respective clients, on the grounds that they had been improperly-obtained by investigating officers.

Justice Tuala-Warren ruled against all three applications and declared the cautioned statements admissible in Court. The judge’s decision was then taken to the Court of Appeal by two defendants, through counsels Fuimaono Sarona Ponifasio and Aeau Tima Leavai.

 

Justice Tuala-Warren’s decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal, and the trial is now underway.

The Allegations

The Prosecution case is that, on the 30th of January 2018, the defendants were playing volleyball at the LDS Church compound when the deceased and a friend entered the compound intoxicated, wearing tank-tops. 

The first defendant Puke Wesley, allegedly told the victim, Mr Pei Aumalii, that tank-tops were not allowed on the compound. This exchange had led to an altercation later that night between the victim and Puka Wesley, as well as the fourth defendant, Peato Upu.

A few days later on the 3rd of February 2018, the deceased and his son, Ualesi, went to the home of the second defendant, Faasipa Matuu, looking for him. Ualesi was holding a plastic bag filled with empty beer bottles.

Faasipa’s father told the victim that Faasipa was not involved in the altercation. The two men are said to have made peace and the victim left.

It is alleged that when Faasipa heard about the visit to his house, and that Ualesi had been holding a bag full of empty beer bottles, he allegedly told the other defendants ‘to prepare’.

On the night of the fatal incident, the defendants allegedly hid under a vi tree nearby a shop in their village. From there, Faasipa heard his mother calling out, that Ualesi was attacking Faasipa’s father, throwing rocks that hit him on the head.

It is alleged that the four defendants then began throwing rocks at the deceased, as the deceased stood throwing empty beer bottles back towards them.

It is alleged that Faasipa and the third defendant Milo Lilomaiava, then dragged the deceased under the vi tree and beat him. Defendants Peato Upu and Puka Wesley, were allegedly beating Ualesi.

The victim and Ualesi broke free from the defendants’ and proceeded to throw rocks at them. Peato is alleged to have then tackled the deceased to the ground.

As the victim attempted to stand up, Puka punched him back onto ground where he lay under the vi tree. All four defendants fled the scene but according to prosecution, Peato Upu returned to the tree to get his shoes and struck the victim three more times.

An ambulance arrived on the scene and took the victim to the hospital. It is not disputed that the deceased was pronounced dead upon arrival to the hospital.

The trial will continue in the Supreme Court of Samoa throughout this week.


Julius Netzler