Drug offender tells court “best story of his life” — and Kruse listens
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Chief Justice Michael Kruse has granted a verbal application from an inmate who has a long history of violating drug laws of the territory to allow him to seek medical treatment off island, so that he will be able to care for his elderly parents and also be a good husband and father for his wife and children.
Tolupo Hodges Jr appeared in High Court last Friday for his Depositional hearing. He was represented by Public Defender Michael White, while prosecuting the case was Assistant Attorney General Christy Dunn.
When given the chance to address the court, Hodges Jr, who has been in custody since his arrest in May of last year, apologized to the court for his actions, and immediately asked for another chance to change his life.
Hodges Jr stated to the court that while in custody, he turned 50 last year; and while sitting inside his cell every single day, he looked back on his life and noticed that he had wasted 49 years of it — dealing with many useless things in life.
“I spent most of my time in jail because of my drug problem. I have not been useful to my parents in the past 49 years of my life. I’m a married husband with young children, and I’m also not useful to my wife and children,” Hodges Jr told the court.
“Your honor, I’m begging for a last chance for me, so that I can seek medical treatment off island so that I can change my life and be a useful person to my parents, wife and children. I want to be a good husband and father, and I want to care for my elderly parents who reside in the States right now.”
Hodges Jr promised to the court that he would not violate any drug laws of the territory in the future, nor break any other laws of the land.
His defense attorney, White, asked the court to consider his client’s plea and allow him the opportunity to travel off island to seek medical treatment for his drug addiction problem. Furthermore, White also asked the court to accept the recommendation from the Pre Sentence Report (PSR).
After reviewing all facts of the case, including the defendant’s plea mitigation and submission from his attorney, Kruse told Hodges that the court was satisfied with the way he presented “the best story of his life”.
Kruse stated that for the many years he’s presided as Chief Justice on the bench, this is the first time he has ever heard “a best story” from someone who has a history with drug possession records and convictions.
“We know from your statement that you love your family, but the court wanted to emphasize to you that if you never treat your drug problem, you will still be the same person. So, Judge Mamea and I have decided to suspend the imposition of your Deposition hearing, under the condition that you will seek medical treatment off island.”
Kruse told Hodges that if he returns to American Samoa and the court sees no changes in him, the court would then issue its decision regarding this matter.
“We don’t have anything here to help out with your drug addiction problem. The only place you can find assistance for your problem is to travel off island,” Kruse told Hodges.
Kruse also reminded Hodges about the number of OSC (Order to Show Cause) pending against him in court, for failure to comply with conditions of his probation. Kruse told him that if the court adds up all 6 months from each OSC, he would be looking at spending many years at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF).
“So it’s up to you to decide whether you want to be with your elderly parenst, wife and children, or if you want to continue to live the life of a prisoner,” Kruse said.
The court suspended the imposition of Deposition for Hodges, under the special condition that he has to leave the island and seek medical treatment in the States to help cure his drug addiction problem.
Chief Associate Judge Mamea Sala Jr accompanied Kruse in handing down Hodges sentence.
Hodges Jr’s first encounter with the law was in 2009 when he was arrested and charged with unlawful possession of methamphetamine. In 2010, he was placed on probation for 5 years under the condition that he serve 20 months at the TCF.
In May 18, 2017, he was arrested again on the allegation that he violated several conditions of his 2010 probation sentence. Hodges Jr. appeared in court on April of this year for his preliminary examination (PX).
It was revealed during the PX hearing from the testimony of a police officer that search of Hodges’ vehicle on May 18, 2017 under a search warrant issued by the court, netted drug paraphernalia such as empty plastic baggies (the type used to sell methamphetamine), and a pair of scissors (which is often used to burn the plastic baggies).
The search was then moved to the defendant’s home in Alofau and police officers found a glass pipe containing methamphetamine substance inside the pocket of a jacket, which was hanging inside one of the tents in front of his home, along with numerous drug paraphernalia, such as cut straws and empty plastic baggies, in addition to live ammunition.
During cross examination, Hodges attorney’s told the court that his client was sentenced by the court in Sept. 2010 for unlawful possession of methamphetamine and placed on probation for 5 years, but the government’s new allegation was filed in May 2017, almost 3 years after his probation had expired.
While in custody awaiting his case, Hodges Jr was among three inmates who tested positive for methamphetamine during a drug test conducted by members of the Probation office.