Lam jailed for life, Court says he strangled Sa'u
The husband of the former Chief Executive Officer of the Unit Trust of Samoa, Sa’u Justina Fa’asamoa, "strangled her with his hands."
This is the verdict the Supreme Court delivered on Thursday when it convicted and sentenced Kolani Junior Lam to life imprisonment for the murder of his wife.
“The Court finds that Justina Sa’u did not commit suicide," said Justice Mata Keli Tuatagaloa when she delivered her decision.
“The Court finds the defendant Kolani Lam strangled Justina Sa'u with his hands by intermittent neck compression, then Justina Sau died from intermittent neck compression from strangulation by hands.”
Lam received the mandatory life imprisonment sentence for Sa’u's murder on the 20th of October 2018.
He was also found guilty of assaulting Talei Kelsall in 2016, the daughter of Sa’u from her first marriage and attempting to defeat the course of justice in relation to the murder charge.
Represented by lawyer, Leiataualesa Komisi Koria, Lam pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
But after a lengthy trial, Justice Tuatagaloa ruled in favour of the prosecution’s case that Lam strangled his wife and staged her death to make it look like she committed suicide. The former U.T.O.S. C.E.O. and mother of four children was 43 years old when she died.
“The Court accepts the forensic pathologists findings that multiple injuries and bruising within the tissues of the deceased’s neck and presence of possible red spots from neck up is most likely caused by the application of multiple point of force such as multiple fingertips by way of strangulation,” ruled Justice Tuatagaloa.
The Court also concluded that, “…at the time he applied intermittent neck compression to Justina, he intended for her to die.”
“The defendant was applying intermittent neck compression. It could have ended at any time he releases compression to stop if he intended for it to stop but he didn’t.”
Justice Tuatagaloa pointed out there were only two people present at the time of Sa’u’s death; it was the deceased and the defendant.
“On the defendant’s account, he was the last person to see Justina alive shortly before he said he saw her hanging from the starfruit tree,” she said.
According to Forensic Pathologist, Dr. Paul Botterrill, the cause of death was by intermittent neck compression.
He told the Court that while many individual injuries found on the deceased’s may occur in hanging, it was his opinion that multiple injuries and bruising within the tissues of her neck, the damage to her vocal cord, her voice box and the present of multiple red spots is most likely caused by application of multiple point of force such as multiple fingertips by way of strangulation.
It was Dr. Botterrill’s evidence that none of the neck bruises on Sa’u’s neck area occurred after death, it occurred before then.
Prosecutor and Assistant Attorney General, Magele Leone Su’a, said it was the prosecution’s case that Lam strangled his wife with his hands.
She argued the offending took place inside the couple’s bedroom before the deceased was dragged outside to make it look like it was suicide.
Prosecution relied on circumstantial evidence to prove its case, the Court heard.
There were 26 witnesses called by prosecution. They included Police officers, Pathologist, work colleagues of Sa’u, her relatives, friends and babysitters.
But Lam and his defense team argued that Sa'u committed suicide.
They called three witnesses including Lam, his sister Fuaopepe Lam and his ex-wife, Aiva Kalati.
The Court heard that Sa’u died in the early hours of Sunday, 21st October 2018 after a drink-up with Lam, Junior Maiava and Sio Aukusitino.
When Mr. Maiava and Mr. Aukusitino left the couple’s home at Sinamoga, Sa’u and Lam began talking.
“They were talking and had conversation where Kolani then asked Justina which to the effect, how do I look,” said Justice Tuatagaloa about the evidence before the Court.
“He was referring to his physique, as he has been working out to look good for his wife Justina.
“Justina was commenting that he is alright and went further to make remarks that her ex-husband had a nice body.
“Kolani in his evidence said he wasn’t happy and told her to shut-up and stood up and went inside to check on the children.
“According to Kolani, he only went inside for ten to fifteen minutes and when he came out he saw Justina hanging from a starfruit tree at the back of the house not far from where they were drinking.”
For the charges of assault, Justice Tuatagaloa accepts the evidence from Talei Kelsall and Carena Evile that Lam had forced his hand around Ms. Kelsall’s neck.
“Kolani himself in his evidence said he held Talei on the chin and in doing so is without a doubt had committed assault,” she said.
The Court also ruled in favour of prosecution’s witnesses on the charge of attempting to defeat the course of justice in October 2018.
The prosecution claimed that Lam committed the offending by saying to babysitter Mealii Tualagi to tell the Police didn’t see any rope if she is asked.
The defense argued that the evidence from Ms. Tualagi should not be believed because she made two different statements to Police.
One of those statements referred to Lam as being an abusive husband and that he physically abused Sa’u.
But Justice Tuatagaloa said the two statements by the babysitter are different in context but not inconsistent.
“She said the statement responses to questions by the officer that questioned her,” she pointed out.
“She said it was police that came to take her and not by any of Justina’s family.
"I find Mealii Tualagi to be a credible witness and I accept her evidence that Kolani did say to her to say that she didn’t see a rope when asked by police.
“It could be referred to an intention to distract police investigation away from him as a suspect, and is therefore an intent on his part to defeat the course of justice, why else would Kolani say those words to Mealii?”
Justice Tuatagaloa will sentence Lam on the assault and conspiracy to defeat the course of justice charges on 7 February 2020.