Jail time and probation ordered for a man who sexually abused a girl, 15
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A man from Samoa convicted of sexual abusing a 15-year-old girl has been ordered to depart the territory and remain outside of its borders as a condition of his 5-year probation.
Oneone Tuala, 35, who has been in custody since his arrest, unable to post a $35,000 surety bond, appeared in court yesterday morning for sentencing.
He was initially charged with one count each of child molestation; sodomy; and first degree sexual abuse - all felonies. But under a plea agreement with the government, Tuala pled guilty to first degree sexual abuse, a class D felony, punishable by up to 5 years in jail, a fine of up to $5,000 or both. The remaining charges were dismissed.
Tuala admits that on Apr. 25, 2018 he entered the victim’s home and touched her in a sexual manner while she was sleeping. When given the chance to speak, Tuala apologized and asked for a second chance so he can return home to care for his family and provide for his kids. He described his time in prison as a ‘nightmare’, saying only God knows who is wrong and who is right in this matter. Tuala never apologized to the victim and her family.
Defense attorney Rob McNeill asked the court for a second chance for his client, to allow him to return home and find a job to care for his family. Prosecutor Doug Lowe recommended probation with the condition that Tuala depart the territory and remain outside of its borders for the duration.
Associate Justice Fiti Sunia referred to the Pre Sentence Report (PSR), which noted that the victim suffered physical injuries when Tuala touched her sexually, saying those injuries will remain in her thoughts for the rest of her life.
Sunia said the court understands the reason both sides recommended probation - it’s the quickest way out for Tuala. But, he continued, the court also needs to look at the other side of the coin: the expenses of housing Tuala at the TCF.
Tuala was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment and a $2,000 fine. Execution of sentence is suspended, and he is placed on probation for 5 years subject to two conditions. He has to serve 20 months at the TCF. Upon release, he has to depart the territory and remain outside of its borders for the duration of probation.
The court made it clear to Tuala that if he returns to American Samoa before his probation period expires, he will have to serve out the balance of probation. Afterwards, he will be required to depart the territory. The prosecutor has been ordered to contact Tuala’s sponsor to pay his fine.
“Mr. Tuala, you’re now ordered to depart the territory. It appears to us that you took advantage of the time you resided in the territory. You betrayed opportunities the territory offered to you when you entered American Samoa looking for a better future. That betrayal ends here,” said Sunia, who was assisted on the bench by Chief Associate Judge Mamea Sala Jr and Associate Judge Tunupopo Alalafaga.
Police were notified on the morning of Apr. 26, 2018 about Tuala sexually abusing the victim.
According to the girl, a week before the incident, someone came to their home late at night and tried to open her room window. When she stood up to check, the person left but she felt that the culprit looked like Tuala. The night before the incident, the girl said she saw a man standing outside of her room, looking in through the window. And when she turned on the light, she saw a man running to the other side of the house. The man looked like Tuala.
Then on the night of the incident, while asleep in the living room, she felt someone touching her breast and private parts through her clothes. She said she thought she was dreaming but when she opened her eyes, a man was sitting by the couch, touching her. She said she screamed loudly so her aunty - who was sleeping next door - could hear her and come help. And as soon as she screamed, Tuala fled through her bedroom window.
The girl told police that a month prior to the incident, Tuala asked if they could be friends. The victim said no, and told Tuala to stop asking.
When questioned by police, Tuala said it was the victim who invited him over to her home that night. He said that two days prior, the victim confronted him at a volleyball game and asked if he was available on the night of Apr. 25th. He said the girl told him he could come over around 10pm as her father was in Apia for a week and her mother would be at work.
Tuala insists that it was the victim who made the arrangements for them to meet; however, she denied everything to police.