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Letasi case: Prosecution is confident — defense tells jurors be patient

Chief Justice Michael Kruse
Opening arguments are made in the case

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Jury instructions and opening statements for the jury trial of a man accused of unlawful possession of illegal drugs and weapons began yesterday in High Court.

Tautua Letasi, who is out on a $60,000 surety bond, is charged with unlawful possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute; and unlawful possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, both felonies. He is also charged with two misdemeanor counts of possession of two unlicensed firearms.

A six-member jury — three females and three males — was selected this past Monday.

Prosecutor Woodrow Pengelly, assisted by Assistant AG Bianca Lherisson, told jurors that Letasi is a drug dealer; but Assistant Public Defender Ryan Anderson said the vehicle that was driven by his client on the day of the alleged incident, and the Army backpack police found inside the vehicle, does not belong to Letasi.

The government’s lead investigator is Det. Savelio Vaofanua while former cop, Eddie Fruean is the defense’s lead investigator.


Pengelly told jurors the government’s case is about a drug dealer, who is charged with unlawful possession of both drugs and weapons.

He said the evidence will show that during the early hours of May 21, 2017, while DPS officer Justin Thomsen was conducting a routine traffic patrol, he witnessed a vehicle coming from the opposite direction at a high rate of speed.

Thomsen pulled over the vehicle, and the driver was the defendant. Letasi did not provide a driver's license or any form of identification to the officer when asked.

Pengelly said that at some point, while Thomsen was speaking to Letasi, he saw something that looked like a firearm. The vehicle was impounded and Letasi was escorted to the DPS west substation for questioning.

A search conducted on the vehicle uncovered a shotgun in the back seat, along with an Army backpack wherein cops discovered what appeared to be baggies of crystalline substances believed to be meth, and baggies with a green leafy substance.

Also discovered were crystalline substances in three medium sized ziploc plastic bags, along with several drug paraphernalia.

Det. Savelio Vaofanua was informed about the situation, and was later assigned as  lead investigator in the case. A search of Letasi’s home in Aoloau netted a rifle inside his bedroom, along with more drug paraphernalia, including cut up straws, a scale, a pair of scissors, empty baggies commonly used to package illegal drugs. A glass pipe containing residue of a white crystalline substance was also discovered at Letasi’s home.

In conclusion, Pengelly told jurors it’s the government’s role to present all the evidence in this case, and at the end of trial, they will return with a guilty verdict for all four charges.


Anderson, in his opening remarks to the jury, asked them to be patient until the end of trial, so they can hear all the facts.

The defense attorney told the jury his client is innocent. He also told jurors they have to weigh all the evidence in this case before they making a decision.

According to Anderson, unlawful possession of something means a person has to have knowledge of what he/ she is unlawfully possessing; and in the government's case against his client, there will be evidence to prove that his client had no knowledge of what was inside the backpack. Furthermore, he said, there will be evidence to prove that the vehicle his client was driving on the day of the alleged incident does not belong to him.

Anderson believes the evidence will provide a clear picture of the case because his client is an innocent man. And for that reason, he asked the jury to find Letasi ‘not guilty’.

The trial resumes at 9:00am today.

Presiding over the case is Chief Justice Michael Kruse, assisted by Associate Judges Fa’amausili Pomele and Muasau Tasina Tofili.