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Lessons from Kolani Lam’s trial

The tragedy surrounding the death of the former Chief Executive Officer of the Unit Trust of Samoa (U.T.O.S.), the late Sa’u Justina Fa’asamoa, can now be put to rest.

Nearly a year after news of her death sent shockwaves throughout this nation, the decision by the Supreme Court to convict and jail Sa’u’s husband, Kolani Junior Lam, for her murder, brings a sense of closure to the matter, barring an appeal.

To Sa’u’s children, families, friends and colleagues, it is the least they deserve. We take this opportunity to offer them our deepest sympathies and sincerest condolences for their loss.

While the verdict is not going to bring back Sa’u, the idea that the man who ended her life has been locked up behind bars where he truly belongs, points to justice being served.

And justice was not just served in this matter; those who have followed the proceedings on the pages of this newspaper have witnessed the course of the law being walked out publically and transparently during the past several months.

Lam’s trial has been at the forefront of the nation’s conscience since it started. It has been the subject of much interest ever since the news surfaced he had been accused of her murder. Understandably so. For who could’ve thought it possible? What could possibly drive someone, let alone her husband whom she would’ve trusted, to do the unthinkable?

Indeed, with Sa’u’s profile and their material wealth, they appeared to have had a great life, at least better than most. In the eyes of most Samoans, they would have only envied such a lifestyle. But beneath all that façade was the ugly truth that would only be revealed in the halls of justice at Mulinu’u during the trial.

From the beginning, the husband denied murdering his wife. His spin on her death was quite simple, as his legal team argued, in that she committed suicide by hanging herself from a starfruit tree.

Many people knew this could not possibly be true. Why would someone like Sa’u do that? Sure she had a tough life, like most people, but suicide? It didn’t make any sense, she had so much going for her; she had a lot to live for.

The prosecution’s case was also quite simple. Assistant Attorney General, Magele Leone Su’a, argued Lam wanted her dead because he stood to benefit from it. Besides, as a proven wife beater and an alcoholic, his credibility was already on the rocks.

“The defendant stands to gain from all her assets and investments,” Magele argued. “At the time he strangled her, he would have intended for her to die and given his intoxicated state, he would’ve proceeded with the act of assault.”

In the end, Supreme Court Justice Mata Tuatagaloa was convinced beyond reasonable doubt that Lam killed Sa’u.

“The Court finds that Justina Sa’u did not commit suicide," Justice Tuatagaloa ruled. “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.

Justice Tuatagaloa was adamant that Lam “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.”

What a tragedy, what a waste of a precious life. All for what again? Who knows?

What we do know is that there are no winners in this extremely sad story.

Sa’u was many things. An aspiring Parliamentarian, she was a wonderful mother to her children, a much-loved daughter and sister to her parents and siblings, a leader in Government, church and many private organisations, a chief in her villages and a dear friend to many people.

Her death has left a gaping hole that cannot be filled. And with the Court ruling, we can now confidently say Sa’u has become another statistic in this scourge called family and domestic violence.

The inescapable truth is that if a strong, educated and highly respected woman like Sa’u could become a victim of domestic violence, what hope is there for other vulnerable women? And how many other women like Sa’u are out there?

How can we, as a community, recognise the signs so we can help and save their lives?

Far too many women continue to suffer from family violence and domestic abuse silently. The statistics, as a Commission of Inquiry carried out by the Ombudsman’s Office recently, are frightening.

Sa’u was a classic case.

Let her death not be in vain. It is yet another wake up call to us all.

There is not a lot to be said about Lam but let’s not forget him too. Somewhere somehow there must be a good person in him. How did he reach the point of no return? Did not anyone recognise the signs and reach out to him?

These are the questions we need to be asking ourselves today.

It’s too late for Sa’u and Lam. But it is not too late to help someone else. And in some cases, we don’t have to look far. It could be your brother, sister, work colleague, church member or a fellow villager. Let’s learn to talk to each other and reach out to help. You could save a life.

Have a restful Sunday Samoa, God bless!

 

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