Daughter tells of abusive relationship in hearing over death of former U.T.O.S. Chief Executive
The daughter of the former Chief Executive Officer of the Unit Trust of Samoa (U.T.O.S.), Sa'u Justina Fa’asamoa, has alleged her mother was in an abusive relationship with her step-father before she passed away last year.
Talei Justina Kelsall, 13 years old, is the eldest daughter of Sa'u from her first marriage.
Sau was taken to the Moto’otua hospital and was declared dead on 21 October 2018.
In Court on Monday during the hearing, Kelsall alleged that her step-father, Kolani Junior Lam, used to punch and hit her mother even when she was pregnant.
Lam from Sinamoga, had pleaded not guilty to manslaughter, common assault and conspiring to defeat the course of justice.
“When we were at Sinamoga, I know my mum would be abused a lot,” said Kelsall.
“When they argue, he would punch her and slap her when they get into a fight. I know (this) because she would tell us that they were fighting in the room without us knowing. My mum told us that when she’s angry and admitted it when she was pregnant with my half-sister.”
At this point, defense counsel, Lei'ataualesa Komisi Koria, objected, saying the evidence was hearsay.
Justice Mata Keli Tuatagaloa then said that what the deceased mother had said falls in the exception of hearsay under the Evidence Act.
Leiataualesa argued the exception is proof of what was said and not proof of what had happened.
Justice Tuatagaloa agreed, allowing it for the exception argued by defense counsel.
Prosecutor is Assistant Attorney General, Magele Leone Su’a, assisted by lawyer, Anne Matalasi.
Continuing her evidence, Talei recalled there were “occasions she admitted she was punched and also seen my mum being violently abused”.
“He threw my mum with a pot once at night time when we were about to go to sleep,” she said.
“When he threw my mum with the pot, I yelled at him to stop and he looked at me and he started to walk towards my mum. I ran towards her and hugged her – she told me to go inside the room.
“He came and threw me against the kitchen and I sprained my ankle and I called out for help.”
Kelsall alleged that when the accused threw her mum with the pot “it's like she didn’t care”.
Asked what did her mum and the accused argue about, she said it was because he was talking to his ex-wife.
In her evidence, Kelsall alleged that Lam had a hammer and knife taken away from him during an argument with her mother.
She said it was the cousin of the accused, who lived infront of them, who came and took the knife and hammer away from him.
On that night, she said her mother had taken her and her siblings to live at her aunt Ann’s house.
“Later she told me she forgives Junior and they’ll fix things.”
Magele had then asked the 13-year-old what her step-father does.
“He usually sleeps, comes out to smoke and drink,” she told the Court.
“He drinks every night.”
In 2016, the daughter said they moved in with Lam in Sinamoga as her mother wanted to see him often, in order to build her relationship with her step-father.
She pointed out her mother would often argue with Lam because of her and her step-father’s children.
“She told me to be more responsible because I am one of the reasons why they fight a lot,” she said.
Asked about her relationship with her mother, Talei described it to be very close and “she would tell me a lot of things”.
She recalled that her mother would always ask her how she would feel about something involving her before she makes the decision.
“She asked me if I liked him (Lam) and I said yes because it was what she wanted to hear,” she testified.
The witness was then shown photos of the house at Sinamoga being tendered earlier by police officer, Constable Leatuvalu Neemia.
Some of the photos taken by Constable Neemia is the outside of the house, a rope hanging down from a starfruit tree near the house, a shoe lying underneath the starfruit tree amongst others.
Asked if she was aware of the rope – Talei immediately identified it as the rope used to hang the mop near the back door.
“I have never seen the rope hanging from the starfruit before,” she replied when she was asked to look at a photo taken by forensic after her mother died.
“I often play hangman with the rope which is always hanging at the back of the door.”
Talei said on Saturday 20th October 2018, she was in Apolima as usual to spend the weekend with her grandmother.
Her living routine is that she stays at Sinamoga from Monday to Friday and gets picked up by her uncle every Friday to go to her grandmother, Sofia, in Apolima.
The Friday of the week her mother died was the last time she saw her mother.
“One time she called me and told me to be careful and that was the last time we spoke.”
Talei explained earlier before her mother met Lam they were staying at Ululoloa.
It was sometime in 2016 that her mother met Lam at her aunt’s wedding, where he was the best man and Sa'u was a bridesmaid.
After then, her mother had introduced her to her step-father and had eventually moved in to his home in Sinamoga, she said.
Her biological father died when she was only 3 years old.
The teenager said Lam lives with his three other children from his first marriage.
It is her evidence that Lam allegedly strangled her whilst her mother was in New Zealand in 2016 to give birth.
She alleged that Lam was drinking with friends and on the day she had made his daughter cried because Jazelle wanted to play on X-Box while she was watching T.V. with the other siblings.
Talei claimed that her step-father did not like this and had yelled at her that she was not the boss and everything in the house belongs to him.
“He held me on the neck with his right hand and lifted me off the floor where I had to tiptoe,” she said.
“He tightened his hand and I was getting blurred sight and I had my hands around his hand and I was trying to control my breathing.
“He was saying something but I wasn’t focusing on him and then (less than a minute) he left the room and I went back to crying.”
During cross examination, Leiataualesa asked Talei about her relationship with her step-father
The lawyer asked her if Talei was not happy that Lam was becoming part of the family in which she replied no.
“That is not the whole reason why,” said the witness.
“Before they got married he had already choked me. They were moving too fast and I couldn’t keep up.”
She accepted that she was not excited for Lam to become her step-father and Sa'u’s family in Apolima was also not happy with him.
She told the Court she called him dad because her mother and Lam had both asked her too.
About her step-father’s children, the young witness said she hated them because they would always argue “and would criticise me”.
Leiataualesa then asked Talei if she was unhappy with Lam giving her instructions and how to behave just like how he would treat his other children.
She said yes.
“If Kolani tried to give you advise he was trying to treat you as one of his children,” the lawyer asked.
Talei responded, probably.
At this time, Leiataualesa reminded Talei of her 13th birthday last year where she had asked Lam for a cell phone and had spent $500 tala to buy her a phone.
The witness had told the Court earlier that her mother would not allow her and her siblings to have phones or any other electronic devices because it was a distraction.
The lawyer then put it to Talei that Lam had tried to treat her as one of his children.
She said yes.
He also put it to her that at times she would cry because she did not want to sleep by herself and it made her mother angry but Lam had stayed with her until she falls asleep.
The witness replied yes.
Leiataualesa also put it to Talei that the accused had a different account of what happened on the day that she claimed he had strangled her.
It is Lam’s evidence that he had cupped Talei’s chin so that she would look at him.
The lawyer said Lam will testify that he did not strangle Talei, he was talking to her and she did not look at him so he had put his hand on her chin to raise her head so she can look at him.
But Talei insisted that is not how she remembered what took place.
Days after the incident, Talei flew to New Zealand where her mother Sa'u was waiting to give birth.
Lei'ataualesa then asked her if its not true that she had apologised to her mother that she made up the story of Lam strangling her.
“Yes I did tell her that to make her stop yelling at me and asking questions,” replied Talei.
The witness maintained that she was allegedly strangled by the accused and “my mum didn’t believe me she probably believed what Junior told her because she loves him”.
After some two months in New Zealand, Talei and her late mother returned to Samoa.
It was not until sometime that Talei returned to Sinamoga to live with her mother again and her step-father.
In one event, Leiataualesa reminded the witness if she recalled a time when her uncle Lolani had dropped her off at Sinamoga after the incident where Lam had asked her why she said what she said.
“When you and Carena (cousin) came with your uncle (Lolani) – Kolani said he was surprised about what you had said and confronted you why you said what you did infront of your uncle but you did not say anything,” the lawyer asked.
But Talei said she does not remember.
She did accept when asked by the lawyer if she had lied and her mother would slap her for doing so.
She said her mother did do that depending on what she would lie about.
The witness was also queried again the night that Lam allegedly threw a pot at her mother.
According to the lawyer, Lam claims that Sau was smashing empty bottles outside and had tried to stop her because one of their children goes outside and might step on it.
He told the witness that Lam was telling his mother to stop smashing the bottles.
Talei replied she can only recall that they were yelling at each other and were arguing.
The lawyer put it to the witness that after Lam failed to get the attention of her mother he then proceeded to pull her away from and that was when Talei came from behind and hugged Lam.
Again, Talei said she recalls hugging her mother and her step-father threw her in the kitchen.
Leitaualesa then put it to Talei that what is saying is incorrect and Lam’s cousin name Fitu that she had claimed that took away the hammer and knife said he did not do that.
The lawyer also put it to the witness that Sau had sometimes damaged things in the house including the front door light being broken twice.
Talei said yes and added that Fitu could be lying.
The lawyer asked the witness about what were the other incidents that the witness claimed her mother was punched and beaten by the accused.
He explained to Talei, to be fair to Lam she needs to point out what were the particular incidents that she claimed he had abused her.
In response the witness said she cannot recall.
The hearing continues today.