Probable cause found in Ottoville car theft case despite some inventive defense
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Despite strong opposition from Assistant Public Defender, Bob Stuart, that the government failed to present sufficient evidence to bind over to High Court its case against his client, District Court Judge Elvis P. Patea disagreed.
Defendant, Mealeaga Ale, who has been in custody since his arrest two weeks ago, unable to post a $10,000 surety bond appeared in court yesterday morning for a preliminary hearing (PX).
Prosecuting the case is Assistant Attorney General Christy Dunn, while Ale is represented by the PD’s Office. Ale is charged with first degree burglary and stealing, both class C felonies, punishable by imprisonment of up to 7 years, a $5,000 fine or, pursuant to A.S.C.A 46.2101, a fine equal to twice the amount of gain from the commission of said crime, up to a maximum of $20,000, or both such fine and imprisonment.
During court proceedings, the government called one witness to the stand: DPS Officer Leomiti, the lead investigator. According to Leomiti, on Oct. 19th, at around 6:15a.m, police were contacted after a man called 911 to report that his vehicle had been stolen from his home.
The victim told Leomiti that earlier that morning, he was out doing some yard work when he discovered that his vehicle was missing. The vehicle was kept in a carport attached to the victim’s house. Items that were in the vehicle included two backpacks; personnel items; a laptop and an iPad.
At around 6:44.am that same day, said Leomiti, a police lieutenant reported that while patrolling the Nuuuli area at around 4:49a.m she observed the vehicle in question, speeding on the main road heading east. The vehicle was pulled over and the driver was cited for speeding. The vehicle was escorted to Ale’s home in Iliili near the golf course.
According to a female who spoke to police, Ale called her that morning, asking if she can come over, take the vehicle, and hide it because he stole it from somebody. Ale told investigators that he and his friends were intoxicated after leaving a westside nightclub on the night of Oct. 18th. They then walked to Ottoville and went to the victim’s home, where they saw the vehicle parked on the side of his house.
Ale allegedly got into the vehicle and drove off, dropping off his friend before continuing on to Faganeanea to pick up his girlfriend. But he never made it because he was pulled over in Nuuuli for speeding.
Under cross examination, Stuart asked Leomiti if there were any people living in the carport. The witness said, no.
“Did you see any beds, chairs or any furniture to prove that there were people living inside the carport?” Stuart asked. The witness said, no. “Did you see my client steal the vehicle from the victim’s home?” defense attorney asked. The witness replied, “no”. Stuart asked Leomiti if she interviewed any of Ale’s friends who were with him that night to confirm whether Ale stole the vehicle. The witness said, no.
Stuart said there is no proof that his client stole the victim’s vehicle, nor any evidence to prove that there were people living in the carport.
Dunn argued that the government presented sufficient evidence to prove its case and Patea agreed, saying it was clear from the evidence that Ale unlawfully entered a home at night and stole a vehicle. Moreover, Ale’s actions prove there is probable cause to believe that a crime was committed.
Last year, an intoxicated Ale pled guilty to trespass, admitting that he broke into a family’s house by entering through a window and then sleeping on the bed until the next morning. Ale was ordered to stay away from the family’s home and pay a $100 fine as a condition of his 6-month probation.