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Two men, one mission: Kill another man — but plan goes south

American Samoa District Court building

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The case of a man accused of causing serious bodily harm to another man in Iliili last month has been bound over to High Court, after District Court Judge Elvis P. Patea found probable cause to support the charges during a preliminary examination (PX) last week.

Lafoga Auau Papali’i, who is held in custody without bond due to his illegal immigration status appeared in court last Wednesday for his PX. Prosecuting the case is Assistant Attorney General Christy Dunn, while Assistant Public Defender Bob Stuart is representing Papali’i, who is charged with one count of attempted murder and one count of first degree assault, both class A felonies.

During court proceedings, prosector Dunn called one witness: PSO Sefo, who testified that the main purpose behind the incident was Papalii and the victim went to the house to kill another man. But things changed after Papalii allegedly stabbed the victim multiple times with a kitchen knife.

On the night of Nov. 11th, PSO Sefo said a man called in and requested police assistance regarding a stabbing in front of his Iliili home. At the same time, the caller requested medical assistance at the scene. When they arrived, police observed an injured male lying on the ground motionless, bleeding, while the caller was applying pressure on the wounds. The suspect apparently fled the scene before cops arrived.

According to the witness, the victim sustained multiple defensive wounds on his left arm and a puncture wound on his chest, and was covered with blood. The victim was immediately transported to the hospital for treatment. Officers returned to the scene to locate the suspect but were unsuccessful.

Around 6 a.m. the next morning, the witness, along with other cops, went to the suspect’s home to look for him and they met up with the suspect’s girlfriend, who told police that her boyfriend (defendant) never came home, and she had no idea what happened.

PSO Sefo said that when they arrived at the suspect’s girlfriend’s home, they were greeted by a male — later identified as the house owner — who gave officers consent to enter the home and look for the suspect. The suspect’s girlfriend also consented to cops checking her room.

As the search for the suspect continued in the house, the suspect’s girlfriend shouted, “Wait! I want to tell the truth.” She tried to stop police from entering her room but failed. A curtain that covered part of the bed was pulled off and police found the suspect on the floor. Both the suspect and his girlfriend were taken into custody. Investigators interviewed two eyewitnesses regarding the incident.

According to the lead investigator’s testimony, Witness #1 told her that he was getting ready for bed when his older brother came and told him that two guys were standing in front of the house asking for him. When he got to the front door, he saw the victim and the suspect.

He said he asked the victim why he was there and why he brought Auau Papali’i (defendant) to his home. He said he heard the victim say something, and then he told them to get off his property. At this time, Papalii turned around and punched the victim, who ran as Papalii was running after him while throwing multiple punches.

As the victim ran towards Witness #1, he hit the door and fell, at which point Papalii stood over him, continuously throwing punches to the victim’s chest and facial area. Witness #1 said he saw the victim bleeding and realized that an instrument was being used, He said he saw Papalii holding a gray box cutter.

That’s when Witness #1 intervened and the suspect got up and took off. Police were contacted immediately. PSO Sefo said that Witness #2, (witness #1’s older brother) echoed Witness #1’s statement to her during their interview.

Witness #2 said he didn’t know what was going on, but the two guys (victim and suspect) seemed angry. According to Sefo, Witness #2 told her that the main reason Papalii and the victim came to their house that night, was to kill his brother, whom they refer to as “a Palagi man”. But the plan went south when the victim revealed to Witness #2 that Papalii was going to kill his brother.

When questioned by police, Papalii said he was too drunk and mad at the victim, and that’s why he stabbed him numerous times. He said he took off towards the Golf Course, which is where he got rid of the black knife.

Investigators retrieved a black steak knife about 9 inches long that fit the description Papalii had given them, from a bushy area at the Golf Course. There was blood on the knife.

Based on the evidence presented by the government, Patea said the court is satisfied that there is probable cause to bind the case over to High Court. He said that despite strong opposition from the defense, arguing that there were no severe injuries to the victim’s body, it is clear from the detective’s observation that the injuries were serious.

Patea reminded the defense that the only job of the court is to determine whether there is probable cause to bind the case over, while it is the jury’s duty to look at all the evidence and facts of the case during trial. Papalii denied the charges against him during arraignment before Chief Justice Michael Kruse last Friday. His first pretrial conference is Jan. 31, 2020.