Father of three whose wife died while he was in jail — freed to care for children
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A father of three who lost his wife while he was in custody for violating local drug laws tearful begged the court to release him to care for his young children and rebuild his family.
Faamamafa Rhode, who has been in custody since his arrest in May of this year, unable to post a $5,000 surety bond, appeared in High Court last week for sentencing. He was represented by Assistant Public Defender Rob McNeill while prosecuting the case was Assistant Attorney General Laura Garvey.
Rhode, 46, was initially charged with one count of unlawful possession of methamphetamine, a felony, punishable by imprisonment of up to ten years, a fine of up to $20,000, or both.
But a plea agreement with the government, that was accepted by the court last month, allows Rhode to plead guilty to a lesser amended charge, a class D felony punishable by up to 5 years in jail, a fine of up to $5,000 or both.
With his guilty plea, Rhode admits that on Sept. 25th, 2018, he unlawful possessed a glass pipe containing methamphetamine.
When given the chance to address the court, Rhode tearfully apologized for his actions and begged for a second chance so that he can be released from custody and go home to care for his three young children. He told the court that one month after his arrest, he received tragic news about the passing away of his dear wife, who was looking after their children.
“My wife left me without saying a word and my young children were left home motherless while I am still in custody,” Rhode tearfully told the court, adding that “all these problems his family had to face because of his careless act. I don’t blame anybody for what had happened to my family but I blame myself for choices that I made.”
Rhode told the court that while he was in custody, he looked around and noticed a lot of young people locked up for committing different crimes including the unlawful possession of illegal drugs. The defendant further stated to the court that when he sees these young people, he says to himself — “What a waste of time to be in this place.”
He asked the court for a second chance to return home to be with his young children and placing his right hand against his chest promised the court that he would never come before the court again for violating the territory’s drug laws.
Defense attorney, McNeill asked the court for a probated sentence for his client, who has spent over 3 months in jail for his actions. McNeill said that his client is truly remorseful for his actions and was employed for many years providing for his family before he was arrested in May of this year.
McNeill told the court that his client has faced a lot of challenges in life ever since he was arrested. Not only the loss of his wife but also his job. The defense attorney told the court that his client is ready to seek and secure gainful employment if the court releases him to go back home.
The government’s attorney echoed McNeill’s submissions and asked the court to adopt the recommendation by the Probation Office. Furthermore, the government believes that the defendant is truly remorseful for his actions and needs to be home with his young children.
In delivering its decision, the court stated that the defendant is a mature person who can make good choices in life, however, he was arrested for a poor decision he made when police pulled over his vehicle two years ago for a traffic violation and drugs were discovered inside his vehicle.
The court said that traffic stops by police officers for traffic violations are one of the common reasons why people are coming into court when cops discover illegal drugs in their vehicles.
According to the court, those are the facts — that’s why people are coming into court on a daily basis.
The court said that the defendant may have paid the price with the loss of his wife while he was in custody, but that’s not the price imposed by law. The defendant is almost 50 years old but he made a bad choice, which affected his life and also his family’s future.
According to the court, a tearful plea from a teenager for a wrong choice may have some weight on the court based on lack of judgment, but a tearful plea from an adult and a family man did not sit well with the court, because he made the choice with his understanding that there are consequences for his action. Though his own choice, the defendant ignored the opportunity to be a good father.
Having said that, after considering all factors of the case, the court said it feels that the defendant is a suitable candidate for a probated sentence.
Rhode was sentenced to five years in jail and ordered to pay a $2,500 fine; however, the execution of the sentence was suspended and the defendant was placed on five years probation on the condition that he serve 20 months at the TCF. He will be credited for the 3 months he served during his pretrial detention, and the court will defer the balance of his detention.
Rhode is ordered not to possess illegal drugs or consume any alcohol, and he is subject to random drug and alcohol testing.
He was given 90 days to seek and secure gainful employment.
The court informed the defendant that the court is giving him the opportunity to make good on his tearful plea to return home to provide for his family.
“This opportunity is the only opportunity for you to prove yourself. You stated and promised that you will never come to this court again for this offense. We say to you don’t come back to this court for any offenses. If you violate any of these conditions, you will do 5 years at TCF, no more ‘if and but’,” the court advised the defendant.
Rhode was arrested during a routine traffic stop for speeding on Sept. 25, 2018 around 5:12p.m. The traffic stop was made in front of American Samoa Power Authority (ASPA) headquarters in Tafuna. During the stop, Rhode was found to not have a driver’s license or other photo ID on him at the time. His vehicle was then impounded and he was transported to the Tafuna Police Substation (TPS) for further investigation.
A routine body search was conducted before Rhode was taken to TPS and nothing was found. The search then moved to the vehicle where police discovered a black pouch between the driver’s seat and the passenger’s seat. Inside the black pouch was a glass pipe containing white powder. The white powder was later tested and the result was positive for methamphetamine.
Rhode told investigators that he doesn’t sell drugs nor is he involved in any type of selling or buying. He had accepted the glass pipe from his friend because he’s his best friend, he told investigators.