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High Court seeks clarification from defendant in assault case

The High Court has taken under advisement the government's plea agreement with Selefuti Tago, one of the five Nu'uuli Rugby players accused of assaulting in July this year a Samoa-based referee during a rugby shield match at Veterans Memorial Stadium.In delaying a decision on the plea, the court has directed the Probation Office to prepare a pre sentence report, and another hearing in this case has been scheduled for Dec. 2, which is the date that the court is expected to reveal its decision on the plea.Tago was initially charged with a felony first degree assault and a misdemeanor public peace disturbance but under the plea agreement read in court on Monday, the defendant pled guilty to third degree assault, a misdemeanor, and the government moved to dismiss the public peace disturbance charge.However, during questioning by Chief Justice Michael Kruse in Monday's hearing, Kruse asked if the defendant had punched the referee. Tago said he didn't, and used the Samoan word \fa'alava\ to describe what he did that day.Kruse asked for an explanation of \fa'alava\ and Tago stood up and put out his arm with an open palm in a stopping motion. Tago also said that from his action, the referee fell down. The court was unclear about two other responses from Tago on questions from the bench and Kruse continued the plea hearing to Tuesday, telling the defense attorney Marie Alailima to thoroughly discuss the defendant's action on that day to ensure that Tago is clear on what he is pleading guilty to.When the case was called again Tuesday, Kruse asked if the defendant punched the referee and Tago replied \yes\ and admitted that his action caused the victim pain.The court then denied Tago's request for a chance to address the court. Kruse informed the defendant that he can relay all his information about the day in question to the Probation Office, to be included in the pre sentence report, which will be compiled and presented to the bench and attorneys for both sides.During the Tuesday hearing Alailima requested that her client be released on his own recognizance to await the next court hearing. However, Kruse said that although the defendant has pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge, the court has yet to render a final decision on the plea agreement and this means the defendant is still faced with a first degree assault charge.Bail for Tago is set at $20,000 and the court says it will entertain at a later date another request on the bail issue.Other defendants charged in this case are Fuatai Tago and Uili Tautiga aka Barry Pelenato - both go on trial April 23, 2012. Also part of this case are Iopu Siolo and Pene Wells - both have their pre trial conference set for Dec. 5, 2011. All four remain in custody unable to post bail.Samoa News reporter Ausage Fausia contributed to this report.