Jury in trial of alleged drug dealer hears from 4 govt witnesses
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Jury instructions, opening statements and govt witness testimonies for the jury trial of one of the co-defendants from Pago Pago drug raid over three years ago began yesterday in High Court.
Sio Godinet Jr, who is still in custody unable to post a $50,000 bond after being re-arrested by police in July 2018 when the government re-filed their case against him, is charged with four felony counts, including unlawful possession of a controlled substance, methamphetamine (meth) with intent to distribute; unlawful possession of a controlled substance, meth; unlawful possession of a controlled substance, marijuana with intent to distribute, and unlawful possession of a controlled substance, marijuana, all unclassified felonies, each will punishable by a term of imprisonment of not less than five years, nor more than twenty years, a fine up to $20,000, or both.
A six-member jury — four women and two men — was selected this past Tuesday.
Godinet Jr is represented by Assistant Public Defender Ryan Anderson while prosecuting the case is Assistant Attorney General Kristine Soule’.
Soule’ in her opening argument told jurors the evidence that government is going to present during the trial will speak for itself and will prove that the defendant was aiding and abetting other people to possess illegal drugs and distribute the drugs to other people.
Defense attorney Anderson told the jury that he agreed with the prosecutor that the evidence will speak for itself and it will show that no drugs were found in his client’s possession, nor did his client at anytime advise or counsel the two co-defendants to possess and distribute meth and marijuana.
PROSECUTOR’S OPENING ARGUMENTS
Soule’ told jurors that the government’s job is to prove to them that the defendant was assisting two other people to possess meth and marijuana between April and May of 2018. Soule’ said evidence may not show the defendant specifically possessed meth and marijuana, but it was clear that he assisted two people — Meriko Lomu and Lyon Grey to possess and distribute illegal drugs.
Soule’ said that the government will present physical evidence to prove that drugs were found at the defendant’s home in Pago Pago when detectives executed a searched warrant at his residence on May 15, 2018.
She further stated that witnesses will testify and tell the court that the defendant assisted Lomu and Grey in possession of illegal drugs.
Anderson told the jury that the one thing he agreed with in the prosecutor’s argument is that the evidence the government is going to present will speak for itself and once they hear the evidence, he wants them to review it carefully because there is no evidence to prove that his client was found with illegal drugs.
Anderson reminded members of the jury that their duty is to examine all evidence and make sure to keep an open mind throughout the whole trial.
GOVERNMENT’S FIRST TWO WITNESSES
The government’s first two witnesses were the two experts from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) who testified via video conference.
Their credentials were established during testimony and the court certified each of them as a ‘qualified expert’. With no objections from the defense, each testified for the prosecution and confirmed that the chemical analysis they conducted confirmed that the evidence from this case was meth and marijuana.
Each expert testified about their years of experience and the many tests they have conducted throughout their careers.
The government’s third witness was co-defendant, Meriko Lomu, who was convicted of unlawful possession of meth with the intent to distribute and was sentenced by the High Court to ten years probation.
Lomu told members of the jury that she knew Godinet Jr because he used to be her friend back 2018.
She recalled during her testimony that between April and May of 2018, she called Godinet Jr asking if he could come in his vehicle to take her to the Tafuna area.
The government attorney asked Lomu why she needed Godinet’s vehicle and the witness replied she needed Godinet’s vehicle to use as her main transport when purchasing drugs.
When asked by the government’s attorney to explain what she meant by purchase drugs, Lomu explained that the way she used to earn money was to purchase drugs and then sell them to other people.
Lomu said every time she purchased drugs, Godinet Jr was always present in the vehicle because he was the person who drove the vehicle around.
When asked by the prosecutor to explain the house in Pago Pago where they usually hung out with her friends, Lomu said Godinet Jr allowed her and her friends to hang out at his other house in Pago Pago and there were other times her friends came to the house to do drugs, so, she asked her friends to pay $10 or $20 for the drugs they smoked at the house.
The money her friends paid for the drugs had to go to Godinet Jr, however, most of the money, according to Lomu, came to her.
In cross-examination, defense attorney Anderson questioned the witness asking if she had ever been convicted by the court for a case involving his client. Lomu said yes, she pled guilty to the distribution charge and she was sentenced by the court.
About the Pago Pago house they used to hang out in, Lomu said the house belongs to Godinet.
Anderson asked the witness if she ever spoke to any representative from the Attorney General’s (AG) office about this case. Lomu said yes, it was last week where a representative of the AG’s office approached her about this case.
The government’s fourth witness was the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Special Agent Justin Thompsen, who was a police officer from January 2015 to November 2019. In the middle of 2017, Thompsen was assigned as a detective for the Vice and Narcotics Unit (VNU) and was involved in the investigation of over 100 drug cases involving meth and marijuana.
During his first year as a detective, he was part of the investigation regarding people selling drugs in every part of the island. During these investigations, he was aware of a person by the name of Sio Godinet Jr who is alleged to be involved in distributing drugs in Pago Pago.
Between April and May of 2018, Thompsen said he, along with other detectives conducted a controlled buy using a Confidential Informant (CI) who provided a lot of information regarding Godinet Jr being involved in selling and purchasing meth and marijuana.
The witness recalled the first controlled buy he and his colleagues set up with the CI and explained the protocols and process they followed for the controlled buy, including driving the CI to the location where the buy was scheduled to happen. He said that he saw a GMC vehicle with a number plate 0107 come by and he observed Godinet and Lomu inside the vehicle, with another male individual who was the driver.
He searched the vehicle registration from the OMV office and it was registered to Sio Godinet Jr.
Thompsen told members of the jury that he observed the CI hand the money to Lomu and Lomu then handed a baggie to the CI. The CI handed the baggie he got from Lomu to Thompsen and according to Thompsen, the baggie contained green leafy substance that was later tested and the result came back positive for marijuana.
According to the witness, Godinet was inside the vehicle when the CI handed the money over to Lomu. Godinet also observed Lomu hand the plastic baggie to the CI.
The trial resumes at 9am today with Chief Justice Michael Kruse presiding, assisted by Associate Judges Faamausili Pomele and Muasau T. Tofili.