Man pleads guilty to P.M. assassination plot
A man is facing life imprisonment after pleading guilty to being part of a conspiracy to assassinate the Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi.
But in doing so, the defendant, Taualai Leiloa, alleged that he was pressured by local leaders in the village of Lauli'i to abandon plans to fight the charges in court.
The accused had been due to front a hearing to vacate his guilty plea on Friday morning but instead chose to maintain it.
Leiloa's lawyer, Fuimaono Sarona Ponifasio, told the Court that despite her preparations to contest Friday's hearing and advice given to her client about the gravity of the charges he was facing, he had been persuaded to plead guilty.
“The defendant had raised concerns with the village council and so wants to withdraw the application to vacate his plea and maintain his guilty plea no matter the consequences,” said Fuimaono.
Leiloa is one of three men accused of conspiring to kill the Prime Minister.
Leiloa was charged with two counts of conspiracy to murder Tuilaepa. He is accused along with Malele Paulo, also known as King Faipopo, and Lemai Faioso Sione.
Paulo and Lemai have pleaded not guilty to the charges and are in custody.
Leiloa initially pleaded guilty to the charges at the first instances, while representing himself in court. But last November he sought to change the plea. Fuimaono argued she had contentions with the charges against her client and a Police summary of facts tendered to the court.
Fuimaono also raised concerns about the behaviour of the prosecution's Investigating Officer, Sergeant Afamasaga, in relation to the defendant’s case.
But the Assistant Attorney General, Magele Leone Sua, rejected those claims. She told Justice Tafaoimalo Leilani Tuala – Warren that she was present inside the Court all morning where the accused tried to approach the senior Police Officer before the matter was called.
Justice Tafaoimalo granted the application to withdraw the request to vacate Leiloa’s guilty plea; his guilty plea has been maintained.
In relation to allegations that pressure had been placed on the defendant, Justice Tafaoimalo told a Court filled with matai (chiefs) from Lauli’i that she had faith in the chiefs that that is not happening.
Another matter raised in the Court was an application from the prosecution for a stay of proceedings involving Leiloa until the two other co-defendants are dealt with in the Supreme Court.
Fuimaono emphasised that the charge of conspiracy to murder has a penalty of life imprisonment and argued it would not matter if the sentence was delayed or made after the other Court proceedings as the defendant is liable to face a life sentence in any circumstance.
She said she had searched the legislation to find any leeway for Leiloa but found the penalty of life imprisonment would be imposed forthwith.
Justice Tafaoimalo asked the matter to be adjourned until Tuesday next week for the lawyers to discuss application to the sentencing of the defendant.
Leiloa's wife is from Lauli'i.
The village mayor, Fa'alogo Sasauli Moli, had earlier told the Samoa Observer the village decided to allow Leiloa to return after he was banished when his role in the alleged plot first came to light.
The village made the decision to re-accept him at the request of the Police, pending the outcome of the investigation, in order to better keep track of his whereabouts.