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Court denies motions from Thomas Siaumau for a new trial

American Samoa High Court building
Defense wanted to speak to jurors and get an extension in filing for acquittal or new trial

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Associate Justice Fiti Sunia has denied motions from Thomas Siaumau and his defense team, requesting the court to allow them to speak with members of the jury who delivered a unanimous guilty verdict last week.

Siaumau was found guilty of shooting at a police vehicle while a police officer was inside on the night of Dec. 14, 2017

Siaumau’s case was back on the court calendar’s yesterday, for arguments on two motions filed by the defense: an expedited motion for leave to interview jurors, and an extension of time to file a motion for judgment of acquittal or for a new trial.

Defense attorneys, Richard deSaulles and Daniel Holladay appeared on behalf of Siaumau, while Assistant Attorney General Christy Dunn was present for the government.

In addressing the court, deSaulles referred to an order issued last Friday, barring Siaumau and his defense team from speaking to jurors. deSaulles wanted the court to know that prior to the issuance of last Friday's order, two jurors had agreed to meet with them that same day to discuss some issues pertaining to the verdict.

deSaulles said their intention is not to impeach the verdict already delivered but instead, they want to find out from jurors if there was anybody from the government who communicated with any of them, at any point, during trial.

He said a lot of uniformed cops were present in court on the last day of trial, and he reminded the court of a Facebook post by prosecutor Dunn, posted the night before the last day of trial, asking that as many police officers as possible be present in court to show the jury their support.

deSaulles said the move by Dunn may have caused alarm, that there was  communication between the government and members of the jury during the trial. He said this is grounds for a new trial.

The defense attorney said that when the list of all the government’s witnesses was released to them, there was only one representative from their office who conducted the interviews, and there was one witness they were not able to interview.

He said the defense is not opposed to the court allowing them to speak to jurors in the presence of the Court Marshal; however, they would prefer to speak to jurors on their own.

He said if the court agrees, then the defense will ask for an extension in filing their motion for judgment of acquittal or for a new trial.

deSaulles cited Rule 29 of criminal proceedings, which states that a defendant may move for a judgment of acquittal or a motion for a new trial within 10 days after a guilty verdict.

He also cited Rule 45 which allows all parties to obtain information regarding an investigation or trial, including the chance to interview those who received subpoenas from the court.

Prosecutor Dunn strongly opposed the motions and asked the court to deny them.

She told the court that Rule 43 does not allow extension of time to file a motion for a judgment of acquittal.

Regarding the Facebook post, Dunn claimed that she had nothing to do with it. She said nobody from the prosecution, including police officers, had any communication with any juror during the trial.

She pointed to Marshal Michael Nix’s sworn statement at last Friday’s hearing, that some of the jurors didn't want to speak to the defense attorneys or anybody from that side.

And that's why, Dunn said, she asked the court not to allow Siaumau and his team to speak to jurors.

“The verdict is already out and we spent 1 1/2 weeks in court for this trial,” she said.

In response, deSaulles said if the government didn't have any communication with the jurors during trial, he doesn’t see why Dunn is opposed to the motion to allow them to speak to the jurors.

He said the defense is really serious about the motion because they want to speak to the jurors before they file their next motion.

Sunia said Rules 29 indicates that the defendant can file a motion for a new trial within 10 days after the verdict, and the court is not allowed to give any time extension for filing such motion.

Sunia also stated that under Rule 45, the court is prohibited from allowing any party to communicate with any members of the jury after the trial, and it’s clearly stated that such a move can be against criminal procedure.

The court wanted to know why the defense is seeking an order to allow them to speak to jurors. Sunia said whatever the defense gets from interviewing jurors will not change the verdict already delivered.

Sunia then denied both motions.

On the issue of a Facebook message, Sunia told deSaulles that Dunn has repeatedly denied any involvement, adding that if there is an investigation that needs to be done regarding anything that has to do with the case, “the court will not only investigate it, but also consider it.”

Chief Associate Judge Mamea Sala Jr and Associate Judge Tunupopo Alalafaga Tunupopo assisted Sunia on the bench.