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Mukesh ‘Bob’ Chand found not guilty on all charges of sexual assault

[SN file photo]

The 53-year old local businessman accused by the government of sexually assaulting a 17-year old girl at his home has been found not guilty by a jury of one count each of sodomy and first degree sexual abuse.

The jury of five women and one-man (the 7th juror was an alternate, who was discharged before jury deliberation) handed down its verdict last Friday afternoon after hearing compelling and strong closing arguments from attorneys of both the government and the defense. 

Mukesh ‘Bob’ Chand was initially charged with three counts, including deviate sexual assault, which was dismissed, and his trial was only for one count each of sodomy and first-degree sexual abuse.

Assistant Attorney General Woodrow Pengelly offered no comment when asked outside the High Court building for comments regarding the outcome of the one-week trial. He along with Assistant Attorney General, Robert Morris represented the government.

Representing the defendant were attorneys Richard Desaulles and Joshua Rovelli with the RDA Law Firm- American Samoa.

“It’s a really tough case,” said Desaulles outside of the High Court building when asked for comments. Desaulles gave the “highest accolades” to Pengelly and Morris for prosecuting this case, saying that “it’s not for any thing that they (ASG attorneys) did wrong, it was a very challenging case.”

“These are very challenging cases to prove for a prosector. There wasn’t enough evidence,” said Desallues. “So we’re just happy our client will finally move along with his life.”

Asked if he was surprised with the outcome of the trial, Desaulles said “no”. Asked if he was expecting this outcome, he said, “Yes, because I felt that the really high bar in proving a crime like this beyond a reasonable doubt, when there’s really only two people and God, who truly know what happen or didn’t happen. It’s extremely hard for the government to prove a case like this.”

Closing arguments began just before 10a.m last Friday and lasted for some three hours. Acting Associate Judge Elvis P. Patea, who was assisted on the bench by Associate Judges Satele and Muasau, then gave lengthy instructions for the jury — especially that their decision must be “unanimous” in reaching a verdict on both counts.

It was around 1:35p.m. that the jury went into the jury room to select a foreperson and start their deliberation. But it didn’t last an hour before the Court received word that the jury had reached a verdict, but the jury remained in the jury room a little while longer because Patea and other judges were handling closed-door juvenile cases in another courtroom.

When the case resumed, Patea was handed the verdict form upon request, and the verdict was read out aloud — not guilty on both counts. Patea then asked if the government wanted to poll the jury in their verdict, and Pengelly replied no.

As the jury was dismissed and the case came to an end, Samoa News observed Chand hugging his defense attorneys, who also thanked the defendant’s handful of supporters who were in the courtroom. The defense attorneys also went over to the government side to shake hands with Pengelly and Morris.

Desaulles said over the weekend that the “first moment Bob Chand walked into my office, he proclaimed that he was innocent of the charges, and I believed him.”

Among the government witnesses who took the stand was the alleged victim, who is a close friend of Chand’s daughter. Desaulles said that he believes “the jury were left with serious questions about the alleged victim's credibility.”

“In all of my jury trial experience, I have never seen a more engaged jury. Each member was sitting up straight, paying close attention to all testimony, and most were also taking notes throughout trial,” he said.

(During his instructions to the jury, Patea noted that some jury members took notes but said that the jury should depend on their memory of each testimony and evidence to reach a verdict. And throughout the trial, Patea reminded the jury to keep an open mind until the case is presented to them.)

“And it is clear that the jury kept an open mind throughout trial, giving equal attention to both the prosecution and the defense. Following all of the evidence presented at trial and Josh Rovelli's powerful closing argument, I doubt anyone in American Samoa would have voted to convict Bob Chand,” Desaulles told Samoa News.

He recalled the defense’s statement during trial that “the type of crimes alleged in this case are disgusting and they damage a victim not just at the moment the crime occurs, but they leave lasting emotional wounds that can last a lifetime.”

“However, as we also told the jury, false allegations of sexual assault are also horrible — as they can ruin a person's life, family, and business,” he said. “If not for the team at RDA Law Firm working weekends and late nights to develop his best legal defense, I fear an innocent defendant such as Bob Chand might have been convicted.”

“And while my client's vindication at trial gave some relief to the Chand family, I am sincerely hopeful that the young lady at the center of this trial, along with her loving and supportive family, will find peace as they all move forward with their lives,” he added.

Samoa News will report later on the closing arguments from both sides.