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Lam stood to benefit from Sau's death, Court told

The husband of the former Chief Executive Officer (C.E.O.) of the Unit Trust of Samoa, Sa’u Justina Fa’asamoa, stood to benefit from her death.

That was his intention when he allegedly strangled her in their bedroom, before making up the story that she committed suicide.

This was the gist of the final submission from the Prosecution and Assistant Attorney General, Magele Leone Su’a, in the trial Kolani Junior Lam. Justice Mata Tuatagaloa is presiding.

“[That motive is] on her death, the defendant stands to gain from all her assets and investments,” Magele told the Court on Thursday.

 “At the time he strangled her, he would have intended for her to die and given his intoxicated state he would’ve preceded with the act of assault.”

Lam, who has denied murdering his wife, sat in the witness box with his head lowered. He has pleaded not guilty to the murder of his wife and a common assault offence against his step-daughter, Talei Kelsall. He has also pleaded not guilty to a charge of conspiracy to defeat the cause of justice.  

The prosecution, who relied on circumstantial evidence to prove the murder charge against Lam, made the inference that the accused was abusive towards his wife and that he was an alcoholic.

Magele argued that Lam wanted to benefit from Sa’u’s assets and investments. She pointed out that on the 10th October 2018, Lam had just been granted his citizenship as a New Zealander. A week later, Sa’u died at their home in Sinamoga.

 “The defendant’s whole family all live overseas and its only the defendant that resides in Samoa,” Magele said. “And having received his citizenship the defendant can now relocate to New Zealand.  

 “Justina on the other hand resides in Samoa, she supports her mother and her business. Her aspiration was to run as a Parliamentarian. Therefore, they could have had two different aspirations.”

Magele made reference to the evidence of Sa’u’s daughter, Talei Kelsall, where she alleged to have been strangled by Lam some time in 2016.

 “We submit that he assaulted her [Sa’u] in the same manner,” she said.  

“The defendant had propensity to act in the same way. The defendant had propensity to inflict violence and to assault Justina and it’s more likely he would have assaulted her as oppose to her committing suicide.”

Magele said the evidence from Lam that Sa’u’s feet were dragged on the floor at the time she allegedly committed suicide could not be believed.  

She submitted that common sense would suggest if a person were to commit suicide, it would usually entail that a person’s feet should be suspended - not on the floor.

 “Otherwise it would change the mind of a person to commit suicide.”  

In addition, Magele said that the death of Sa’u was allegedly staged by the defendant to make it look like she took her own life.

Prosecution also relied on the evidence of pathologist, Dr. Paul Boterril, who testified that Sa’u died from strangulation.

Magele submitted that it was clear from the pathologist’s evidence that the injuries on Sa’u’s neck was by way of neck compression.

But defense lawyer, Leiataualesa Komisi Koria, dismissed the arguments from the prosecution.

He said the case from prosecution was highly dependent on circumstantial evidence and hearsay, warning that the Court should be cautious about it.

He refuted allegations that Lam strangled Sa’u inside their bedroom and then dragged her outside and had her hung on the star fruit tree.

Leiataualesa said the evidence of Lam made it clear that an earring found inside their bedroom was the one he took from under the star fruit tree and placed there.

This was supported by the evidence of Lam’s friends and other witnesses that the defendant would frequently sit under the star fruit tree.

In Lam’s defense, the lawyer said the evidence from the pathologist confirmed there were no signs of a struggle on Sa’u’s body to indicate that she was assaulted by Lam in the room and then dragged outside.

 “He [pathologist] did not observe any broken fingernails,” reminded Leiataualesa. “According to his evidence the only sign of a struggle was that there were bruises around her neck.  

 “In addition to that, there was no sign evidence tendered by prosecution that there was a sign of struggle inside the bedroom.

 “If there was strangulation there would be signs inside the bedroom to suggest this.”

Leiataualesa also submitted that the argument from prosecution that the deceased was dragged outside is disputed by the defendant.

He said there are other reasonable explanations for her feet being dirty.

“It would have been possible during all the movement the defendant tried to lift her and put her back down to straighten her body,” he said.

Leiataualesa also challenged the theory from prosecution that relied on evidence from the deceased’s family that Sa’u was not suicidal.

He said such evidence was hearsay and should be treated with caution.

In addition, he said that prosecution made a lot of assumptions that the deceased could not have been hung from the star fruit tree, because the branch was not strong enough for anyone to hang from.

He said such claim was based on speculation with no evidence to support this theory.

About the motive submitted by prosecution suggesting why Lam allegedly committed the crime, Leiataualesa said it was a very “frenzy reason to destroy a home and family” to suggest this.

He also disagreed with the question posed by prosecution to the Court that the ultimate question is for the Court to determine whether Sa’u committed suicide or whether the accused assaulted her.

“The question is always should be is whether or not the evidence especially in respect with the charge of murder is – is it sufficient to prove the element beyond reasonable doubt?” he said.

Justice Tuatagaloa reserved her decision and will advise the counsels know when it is ready.

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