Family decry lack of custodial sentence

The family of a Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration (MJCA) employee – whose 2017 assault led to the conviction and fining of the Lands and Titles Court President Fepulea’i Atilla Ropati – has criticised the absence of a custodial sentence.

The Court of Appeal overturned the District Court's discharge-without-conviction sentence and convicted and fined Fepulea’i $7000, in connection with the assault of MJCA security guard Saili Leota, during a Christmas party in December 2017. The staff suffered lacerations on his head as a result of two bottles being smashed on his head

Speaking to the Samoa Observer, Leota said he has forgiven the judge but the Court should have imposed a custodial sentence to make it fair. 

“I have forgiven him, but he should’ve served some jail time. The sentencing handed down is not fair, given his capacity, it is just not fair,” he said.

His wife Fa’asela, who was present during her husband's interview with this newspaper, expressed similar sentiments. 

“We have forgiven the President, but given the severity of what happened, we feel the sentencing is not fair. And I hope this has taught everyone a lesson. 

It surely has imparted on us the importance of praying, forgiving and seeking God’s peace. But this is better than the first sentence,” she added. 

The couple – who have seven children and 20 grandchildren with their eldest aged 39 – said reminding their children of the importance of forgiveness continues to be a challenge. 

“We have seven children and 20 grandchildren, our eldest is 39 and like every child, when your father is hurt it is not pleasant news. My husband as humble as he is, begged his children to leave the matter in the hands of the law. 

“And that’s what my children did. They bit their tongue and obeyed their father’s instruction. But I must say that it was not easy,” she said while fighting back tears. 

Leota confirmed with this newspaper that he had consumed two bottles the night of the incident. 

“At the end of the party, he (Fepulea’i) and another judge were the only ones left. He walked up to me and out of the blue struck me on my head with a wine bottle and then grabbed a whiskey bottle and struck again. 

“I hid it from my family until a week later when I couldn’t take the pain; I contacted my wife and then I was taken to the hospital,” he said. 

Despite the Court records stating that there was a meeting with Fepulea’i, Leota strongly disputed it. 

“I have not seen nor spoken to Fepuela’i since the incident. The only time I saw him was earlier this year at the Courthouse, where I walked up to him, shook his hand and wished him the best for the holidays,” explained Leota. 

Mrs Leota told the Samoa Observer that her husband is not the same anymore after the December 2017 incident. 

“He feels his head is heavy at times and we take him for medical from time to time when he has migraines.” 

Repeated efforts to get comments from Fepuleai since last Thursday including visits to his house have been unsuccessful as of press time.

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