A man who caused the death of his wife and sentenced to serve two years and four months after pleading guilty to manslaughter – claims his wife died because she fell and hit her head on rocks, after he had slapped her just once on the cheek, despite unexplained injuries in the post mortem report.
Sosene Liona, now 50, was living with his wife, Oifea and their four children at her village of Lalomanu, Aleipata. According to three villagers interviewed by Samoa Global News, including the couple’s neighbors, Sosene Liona was well known for beating his wife.
“E fasi lava i aso uma..”
Oifea was a loving mother of four children. Her eldest daughter Aniva, 18, was enrolled at NUS at the time of her death in July 2019. Her two sons, Liona and Faatasi were 15 and 12 at the time, and her youngest, Lili, was only 10.
In July 2019, Oifea Liona was admitted to the Lalomanu district hospital unconscious. She was transferred to Motootua national hospital where she died five days later.
The “one slap” was accepted by Police and formed the basis of the police summary of facts report.
The “one slap” story formed the basis of the charges laid against him, which went from murder to manslaughter – because there was no intent.
During Sentencing the single slap is referred to as an unfortunate incident, where there was no intention to cause death.
Police had initially charged Sosene with GBH (grevious bodily harm) when Oifea was first taken to hospital. They escalated the charge to murder when Oifea died, but later changed it to manslaughter, with the summary of facts stating that Sosene had slapped Oifea once on the cheek, causing her to fall down on a terrain of rocks. The slap on the cheek and the fall, caused the injuries that led to her death.
Sosene immediately pleaded guilty through his lawyer, Mauga Precious Chang, when the murder charge dropped to manslaughter.
The One-Off Isolated Incident
On the 24th of July 2019, Sosene Liona would act violently toward his wife for the last time.
Police and Prosecution treated the incident as a one-off, isolated incident.
There was no investigation into the history of domestic violence, or an attempt to demonstrate background evidence of an ongoing abusive relationship.
In March 2019, Prosecution had applied for alleged former assaults by an abusive husband to be admissible as background evidence in the murder trial of Sa’u Justina Sa’u.
Justice Tafaoimalo Leilani Tuala-Warren ruled to allow as propensity evidence, previous alleged assaults of a deceased woman by her husband.
“Such evidence is admissible as relevant background evidence of the relationship between the accused and the deceased.”
The summary of facts, and the offending as presented in Court, was just as Sosene Liona tells it:
The children came home from school to find them arguing. Oifea went to the back of the house to peel bananas. One of the children joined to help her. Sosene walks in and out of the house irritated, telling Oifea to stop complaining. She responds by saying, she is not complaining. He then slaps her on the cheek causing her to fall on a rock strewn terrain. She lies still. Unconscious on the ground. Snoring. Blood coming from her mouth.
He tries to revive her. He sends the children next door to seek help and transportation to the hospital.
The Post Mortem Report
According to the post mortem Oifea’s injuries included signs of blunt force trauma to the head with a subdural hematoma. There is a bruise at the back of her head. There is bruising on Oifea’s right arm. There is bruising on her left arm. There is bruising to the front and the back of Oifea’s torso.
According to the coroner’s report, there is bruising on much of her body. And yet, Sosene is charged, convicted and sentenced for a single slap on the cheek.
The Missing Previous Conviction
The “one-slap” story even had Prosecution asking for a non-custodial sentence at one point. Justice Fepuleai Ameperosa Roma was about to sentence Sosene Liona in July 2020 based on Prosecution’s submissions, when Probation brought Liona’s previous conviction to the attention of the Court.
Sosene was convicted three years prior, for the very same offence – assaulting his wife.
Prosecution did subsequently amend their sentence submission.
Justice Fepuleai did, however, call for a higher duty of care by Police and Prosecution to ensure records are updated.
“I want to say that it has now become a common expectation that Probation Service’s record on offenders’ history and previous convictions is more accurate and reliable than that of prosecution and police. In the past and more recently in particular there have been many cases but for the record of Probation Services and honesty of the accused, the Court would have proceeded to sentence them as first offenders..”
Justice Fepuleai goes on to say that the oversight simply meant someone was not doing the ‘simplest task’ of updating a records system.
“It is simply unacceptable that an offenders conviction is not recorded on the system 3 years after he was sentenced, especially for a related offending.”
Prosecution asked for a starting point of 5.5 years however Justice Fepuleai Ameperosa Roma adopted a 4 year starting point and after deductions, sentenced Sosene Liona to 2 years and 4 months.
Justice Fepuleai refers to personal circumstances such as Sosene putting food on the table and paying school fees for his children. Sosene tried to take his own life after the incident according to his lawyer and this was also mentioned. There were letters written by Sosene’s children requesting the Courts leniency, and a character reference from the EFKS Lalomanu faifeau.
Justice Fepuleai in sentencing states, “I accept that you are remorseful and determined for your children to do better..”
“You will live the rest of your life with the guilt that you caused the death of your wife and mother of your four children and I accept that it will be a greater punishment in itself. I also bear in mind the plea by your children for leniency on you”.
In deciding the starting point, Justice Fepuleai says, “I have carefully reviewed all the authorities in the prosecution’s sentencing memorandum;
I accept that it was never your intention to cause the death of your wife. This was an unfortunate incident and that the single slap is at the lowest end of the scale compared to other cases of manslaughter..
“But contrary to other cases, this was an offending in a domestic relationship. It occurred in your home and in the presence of your children. In addition this is not the first time you have come before the Court charged with an act of violence against your wife and the Court must continue to send out a strong deterrent message against all forms of domestic violence especially when the consequences are significantly serious. The Court cannot also overlook the loss of life and gravity of the charge manslaughter”.
Oifea’s children are currently living at Fagalii with their father’s uncle, a former Deputy Commissioner of Police. Their mother buried by what used to be their home in Lalomanu. Their father serving time for the death of their mother. Sosene should be eligible for probation later this year.
Oifea’s side of the story, remains untold, but for the post mortem report.
If you or someone you know is being abused by a spouse, help is available. Please call the Police Domestic Violence Unit on 22222 or SVSG on 800-7874.