Jury trial continues today for alleged drug dealer

Defense attorney bashes the credibility of the DPS investigating officer
ausage@samoanews.com

The jury trial of an alleged drug dealer, who was charged last year with one count each of unlawful possession of methamphetamine and unlawful distribution of methamphetamine — both felonies — began yesterday in the High Court.

Falaniko Stowers, who is also identified as a fafafine in court documents — aka Nicole, is still in custody, unable to post a $10,000 surety bond. A six-member jury — four females and two males — was selected on Monday.

During opening statements, prosecutor Woodrow Pengelly explained to the jurors, what the government is calling the “facts of the case”, while Public Defender Douglas Fiaui provided background of the investigating officer and the way he conducted his investigation. Fiaui also provided a brief history of his client, Nicole.

PROSECUTOR'S OPENING REMARKS

Pengelly, who referred to the fa’afafine defendant as a ‘he’ during court proceedings, told the jury, that the case is all about drug possession and drug dealing. He said the government intends to call six witnesses who will provide testimony during the trial.

The government claims that in Nov. 2016, the defendant knowingly possessed meth. The prosecutor said the evidence will prove that the reason Stowers was in possession of drugs was because he was engaged in the business of selling meth.

Pengelly assured the jury that the government’s first witness, who is the defendant’s neighbor, will testify that he saw vehicles and people on foot visiting the defendant's home multiple times — in the daytime and at night — to buy drugs.

Another government witness is a female who lived in the same house as the defendant. Pengelly said this witness will testify to the same thing, that people and cars were stopping by their house during all hours, and she saw Stowers walk up to the vehicles and hand them something in exchange for something from the drivers.

Another witness on the government's list is a meth user, who was one of Stowers's customers. The prosecutor said the male witness will testify that he was a regular customer and he purchased drugs from Stowers the same day Stowers was arrested by police.

A forensic scientist from the DEA laboratory will also testify and confirm that she received drugs and paraphernalia from the Dept. of Public Safety and multiple tests were positive for meth.

The government's main witness is Det. Johnny Paselio, the lead investigating officer. Pengelly said Det. Paselio will testify that on the day Stowers was arrested, he was in possession of meth worth $200, and this is in addition to what they found after a search of the defendant's home in Fagatogo.

Pengelly said the items that were recovered from the defendant’s house include straws and baggies, which prove that he was engaged in the business of selling drugs.

In closing, Pengelly asked the jury to review the evidence that will be presented and find Stowers guilty of both charges against him.

DEFENSE REMARKS

Fiaui told jurors that the people who were going in and out of his client's home went there for help and Stowers gave them work, but it wasn't selling ice.

He claims that the meth alleged to have been found by Det. Paselio never came from his client's pocket and therefore, Stowers is not guilty.

Fiaui — who referred to his client as "Nicole", said that on Nov. 28, 2016, at about 4:30 p.m., his client found herself alone in the DPS interview room in Fagatogo with Det. Paselio.

He said the government will argue that Paselio is an experienced police officer who has been on the force for over 17 years, and he knows how to do his job.

But, Fiaui said, evidence will show that Paselio is not a big follower of police procedure, protocol, policy, rules and the law.

Fiaui said Paselio took Nicole into a room without any other police officer or person, without a video camera or any recording device, without a single witness to see what happened inside.

He said Paselio is going to tell the story about what happened during the interview inside the room with Nicole.

“That’s the story Paselio is going to tell, but the biggest question in this trial is: Can you trust him? Can you rely on his testimony? Can you trust what he’s going to tell you? Let me answer these questions by telling you what counsel Pengelly didn’t tell you about Paselio,” Fiaui told the jurors.

According to the defense attorney, Paselio has a history of abusing his position as a police officer. He has a history of abusing his police authority and a history of questionable conduct. He also has a history of violence, intimidation, and threatening behavior.

“If the evidence comes up and you are convinced that Paselio is unreliable and unworthy, you must find Nicole not guilty on both possession charges,” Fiaui said.

Fiaui said there is no physical evidence the government is going to present to prove their case. 

“When they searched Nicole house, they found nothing; not a piece of ice, there was no scale, nothing was found to prove the charge of distribution; there was no money. The straws they found inside the house, is the kind of straw you use to drink cold niu (coconut), and the baggies are the kind you can use to store jewelry,” Fiaui said.

He added that the government never took a statement from the people they claim were going in and out of Nicole’s house, nor was there a video to record the movement of vehicles or take pictures.

About his client, Fiaui said Nicole was born in American Samoa, but was raised in New Zealand and Tokelau. She attended school in Apia and was trained as a nurse. She returned to the territory to meet her biological father and ended up attending ASCC where she later graduated with an Associate of Arts degree in Accounting Management.

The trial resumes at 9 a.m. today.

The case is being heard by Chief Justice Michael Kruse, assisted by Associate Judges Mamea Sala Jr and Fa’amausili Pomele.

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