Ads by Google Ads by Google

A sad story of anger and injury leads to deportation for father of 5

American Samoa High Court building
Court sentences man in assault case that erupted over land dispute

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — In the sentencing of a 48-year-old man last week, the government attorney stated to the court that there are many non violent ways to settle disputes in American Samoa, and wielding a machete is not one of them. Talalelei Utufiu had just been convicted of using a machete to cause severe injuries to another man over a land dispute.

The incident erupted when the two men involved in this case fought over some taro, bananas and green coconuts that the victim took from the defendant, who claimed it was from his land.

The outcome of this fight has brought a huge negative impact to the lives of the families of both men, with the victim now facing a severe permanent disability making him unable to provide for his wife and kids. Meanwhile the defendant was ordered by the court to depart the territory and remain outside of its jurisdiction for a period of 5 years, leaving behind his wife and a 5 young children.

The sad part of the story according to the court, is the land the two men fought over does not belong to either of them.

Utufiu appeared in High Court last week for sentencing. He was initially charged with a class A felony first-degree assault, which carries a punishment of life imprisonment or at least 30 years in jail.

But under a plea agreement with the government, Utufiu pled guilty to the lesser felony charge of second-degree assault, punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to 5 years, or a fine of up to $5,000, or both.

With his guilty plea, Utufiu admits that on Nov. 22, 2018 at his plantation, he struck Lavea’i Lio four times with a machete causing him severe injuries.

When he was given the chance to address the court, he apologized to the court and the people of American Samoa for his actions and asked for forgiveness. He also apologized to Mr. Lio, who was the victim in this case, and asked his family to please forgive him for his wrongdoing.

Utufiu took a few minutes to explain to the court his side of the story about what happened the day of the incident, which apparently began when Utufiu found in the middle of his banana plantation 3 bunches of bananas; a basket of taro and green coconuts lying on the ground. He then noticed that Lio who was inside his plantation.

According to Utufiu, he then took what he found back home with him, then returned to his plantation. When he arrived back, Lio called out to him and asked why he took the items with him. According to Utufiu, he did not respond to Lio’s statement but continued with his work. However, Lio (the victim) suddenly ran toward him and punched him in the face, causing him to fall down and hit his head on a rock. “I felt dizzy and became unconscious when Lio punched me but I woke up after my head hit the rock,” Utufiu said.

“Once I was conscious, the first thing that came into my mind was the machete that I was holding. I then grabbed the machete and struck Lio four times, on his foot, his arm, his shoulder and then his body. It was not my intention to strike Lio, but out of fear that’s why I used the machete.”

Utufiu told the court that he was a hard-working man for his family. Two of his children are now serving God’s mission off island, leaving him, his wife and his three younger children — his twin daughters who are at Level 11 at Tafuna High School, and his 8-year-old daughter at their home. His daily routine is to drop his daughters at school before going to work at his plantation, because his plantation was the way he earned money to care for his family.

Utufui’s attorney, called the defendant’s wife to the stand, who asked the court to please forgive her husband and release him to care for their family. She said Tala (defendant) is the right hand man for their family. She further told the court that their family has already performed a traditional apology to Lio’s family over here and also in Samoa where Lio’s parents reside, and the apology was accepted.

The court asked Mrs. Utufui to tell the court where was her husband had worked before and she said he used to work at the wharf for a company responsible for unloading containers.

The court said the reason why the question was asked was because Immigration informed the Probation Office that Utufiu has a P-5 status, which specifies “special skills labor”.

“Do we have a shortage of stevedore workers on island?” the court asked the government attorney. The government attorney said he’s not ready to answer that question, but he will make sure the court is provided with an answer at a later time.

The defense attorney asked the court for a probated sentence, saying that his wife and daughters really needed him to come back home to work at their plantation to feed them. He further told the court that his client has no prior criminal record.

The government attorney on the other hand asked the court to sentence the defendant to a term of five years probation, under certain conditions, and that he has to serve e period of detention. The prosecutor also asked the court to order the defendant to depart American Samoa and remain outside the territory for the period of his term of probation.

The prosecutor told the court the government believes that the defendant is truly remorseful for what he did, but said that there are many non-violent ways to settle a land dispute in American Samoa, and with a “machete is not one of them.”

The prosecutor further told the court the it appears that the defendant’s was trying to justify his actions by saying the reason he used the machete to strike Lio was because he (Lio) first punched him hard in the face.

“The government believes that the defendant’s action was not self-defense but out of anger,” the prosecutor said.

During sentencing, the court stated that this matter occurred when two men fought over banana, taro and green coconuts, which resulted in a criminal act.

The court then sentenced Utufiu to a term of imprisonment of 5 years and a fine of $5,000. Execution of the sentence is suspended and the defendant was placed on probation for 5 years under certain conditions he has to follow.

He has to undertake a period of detention of 20 months at the TCF without any release unless by order of the court. Utufiu is credited with the 17 months he has already served while awaiting the outcome of his matter. That leaves him with 3 more months of detention.

Upon release, the defendant shall depart the territory and remain outside of its jurisdiction for the period of probation.

The court has ordered the defendant’s sponsor to pay the fine of $5,000.

(Samoa News should point out that there is currently no air or surface transportation out or in American Samoa, due to the Governor’s State of Emergency restrictions for the COVID-19 virus. The court has not indicated what its standing is on this issue — whether to continue to keep the person in jail or allowing them to petition to be released to family while awaiting departure.)