“There was murderous intent”

A man charged with the attempted murder of a young woman, who was shot in the face, had murderous intent to kill the victim and poses a threat if he is released on bail. 

This was the gist of an application from prosecutor, Magele Leone Su’a-Mailo, during the hearing of a bail application for Peter Tulaga Eliesa of Vailoa yesterday. 

Supreme Court Judge, Justice Tafaoimalo Leilani Tuala – Warren, presided over the matter. 

Lawyer Leota Tima Leavai represented Eliesa. 

The defendant had sought bail while awaiting his trial. The victim in this case, Frysna Rimoni, was medevac to New Zealand early last month after suffering severe injuries from the incident.  

During the submission, Magele made reference to two medical reports from New Zealand on the victim, where it referred to a laceration to the victim’s left wrist and defense wound from gunshot. 

“The medical report made it clear that the injuries of the victim were not self-inflicted and it was inflicted by the defendant,” she told the Court.   

“Not only did the defendant stabbed her, he also shot her. The medical evidence is consistent with the affidavit of the nurses (that were on duty in Emergency) – and consistently shows the defendant did this – and also shows there was murderous intent."

“There was real determination from the defendant to kill the victim in this case.” 

Magele told the Court from an affidavit that there is a mark on the victim’s forehead between her eyebrows, another laceration across her face, and one on the other side of her cheek. 

“The affidavit of the doctor is consistent that the laceration was caused by a sharp object as opposed to a gunshot.”  

The prosecutor made reference to an affidavit by Margret Rimoni, claiming Eliesa called her and said, “she’s (victim) already dead.”  

Magele reiterated that it was clear from this statement – that the defendant was determined to kill the victim – given the fact that he had not stopped at stabbing her, he resorted to shooting her in the face. 

“The defendant had not anticipated that the victim would survive the brutal attack and injuries she sustained,” she added. 

The lawyer pointed out if Eliesa is granted bail “he would stop at no means to ensure that what he inflicted on January 15 he will continue to do so. 

“Therefore the life of Frysna is still at risk and her safety cannot be guaranteed if he is released. The defendant is aware that the victim survived the ordeal, and is hospitalized at the Middlemore Hospital and has taken an alias.”

Furthermore, Magele explained that the victim is in hospital and is unable to move. 

“She will be there for a significant amount of time and therefore cannot escape from any attack, if the defendant does fly to New Zealand and pay a visit to her,” she told the Court."

“Ms Ponifasio’s affidavit also referred to the defendant, frequently visiting New Zealand to see his wife and children, who reside in New Zealand."

“Ms. Ponifasio also referred to the extent of the victim’s injuries, as well as the extent taken to ensure the safety of the victim in New Zealand – and went as far as referring the matter to authorities in New Zealand and had given Ms. Rimoni alias in. The risk remains if the defendant is released on bail.” 

Magele emphasised there are other people involved that are at risk, if Eliesa is granted bail. 

“The defendant is aware of the victim’s family in New Zealand,” she said. 

“This is the same family whom the defendant alleged there was a relationship, between the victim and this member of the family. Given the outrage the defendant had out of jealousy and out of suspicion whether there is a relationship, the risk is not only towards the victim, but this member of the victim’s family who he is aware of her place of residents.”

Concerned about the defendant’s emotional state, Magele referred to Ms. Ponifasio’s affidavit of messages between the defendant and the victim. She told the Court the defendant had sent a message to the victim earlier on the day of the incident saying to her, “I want to die”. 

“Another message he sent said, I want to go now, I’m so hurt babe…”

 Magele pointed out it was clear from the messages the defendant is emotionally unstable. 

“This is consistent with the victim’s affidavit, where she referred to the defendant having sent her several suicidal messages. Therefore, the risk is not only towards the witnesses in this matter, there is also a risk to the defendant for his own safety.”

Another issue that was raised in the submission was the tampering of evidence. 

She told the Court the alleged murder weapon remains at large, together with other missing crucial items, such as the victim’s phone and the defendant’s phone. 

Magele dismissed the claims from the defense counsel that Eliesa placed the gun on the Landcruiser and had fallen off the car when driving away from home. 

“The gun could not have fallen off if it was lying flat on the back of the truck,” she said. 

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“Even if you are a fast or furious driver the gun could not have fallen off." 

“Therefore, the explanation as to how the gun had become lost, removed from his possession is not possible, and only reasonable explanation – either the defendant still has possession to the gun or is aware of its where about."  

“The fact that the defendant has access to guns, it poses a risk to the safety of the victim as well as the other witnesses. He is a risk to society, witnesses and himself. This risk warrants defendant to remain in custody where he is safe.”

Magele argued it was clear from the affidavit of the victim that her handbag was inside a vehicle. 

However, when Police arrived at the scene on the day, it was not in the vehicle and it was only handed to police by the sister of the defendant, Melania on the following day. 

“When police arrived at the scene around 8:30 whilst the police were there – there were family of the defendant around the scene and the brother of the defendant and sister Melania had already cleaned up the house.”

It was the defense counsel’s submission that Eliesa instructed his family to clean up pillows and sheets – that were covered with blood – for reasons that his mother stays in the same house, and she was due to return home the next day.  

However, Magele said the police had only arrived at the scene within an hour, perhaps two hours at the most after the incident. 

She argued the mother of the defendant was not scheduled to arrive in Upolu until the next day, and the fact remains the family could have waited, until the police conducted their investigation.  

 “But however the house was cleaned up when police arrived in the scene, and as a result had interfered with police investigation, and had in fact damaged crucial evidence to the investigation to lead to the charges being laid. As such prosecution does not accept the submission by defense lawyer that the house was cleaned up because of the mother.”  

Magele then focused on the affidavit of Melania, whom she accused of “changing her story and evidence significant”. 

She said contrary to what Melania said, that she had no idea of what happened on that day, and had only gone to the house when she heard the gunshot. 

“Whether there has been direct tampering or direct interference from defendant, the close relationship between her and defendant, there is a risk they will make contact – they are siblings. 

 “This is the same witness that had the possession of handbag was supposedly locked in the car, same witness that handed over the handbag to police on Tuesday. Out of all other witnesses and siblings present, this is the main witness who is crucial to the prosecution case, and given that Tulaele is not far from Vaitele they will make contact.” 

Lastly, Magele echoed the fear from witnesses, mainly the sisters of the victim who are scared of the defendant. 

Ms. Leavai, in her submission, assured that the defendant is innocent. 

She made the defendant enter a not guilty plea because he wants to be present during his trial. 

“There is no risk of him traveling because his travel documents are with the authority, and he is willing and wants to go through trial to prove his innocence,” she said. 

“The alleged offending occurred and the only people present is the defendant and the victim and nobody aside from those two to witness the offending. We know for a fact Frysna is in New Zealand and if he is to interfere, there are two ways to do that. 

“It is for him to be physically in New Zealand which is impossible with his travel documents being with police and for him to contact her, which he will not ever contact her or the witnesses.”

Ms. Leavai also spoke about Melania’s evidence, where the prosecution accused her of changing her story. 

The defense counsel said Melania in her affidavit Peter told her to “take the girl to the hospital she had shot herself”. 

Dismissing claims of tampering with evidence, Ms. Leavai said it was clear from affidavit of the defendant’s brother that they cleared up the pillows and bloodied sheets because it was their mother’s house. 

“She was due to return back from Savai’i on the following day so that there is nothing for her mother to see, so that when the mother comes back to her house, it is in good condition,” she submitted. 

She argued that the family had put the bloodied sheets and pillows in a plastic bag, and then a policeman had instructed them to burn it. 

“It was not an initiative from the family, they followed the instructions from the police. He (defendant) was also asked about the gun – he told the police when he left it in Vailoa – it was in the tray of the truck, and must’ve fallen off as the road to his farm is not good. There is no way he would try to hide the gun. He had given instruction to the police where the alleged murder weapon was and obviously was not found.”

Ms. Leavai also submitted that the missing phone is of the victim and the defendant. She said the defendant had lost track of his phone, after he called the Police Commissioner and called his sister to accompany him to the police station. 

 “And during the cause he had obviously lost track of his phone and he does not have the victim’s phone,” she said.  

The defense counsel also dismissed claims that Eliesa called the Police Commissioner and said to him, “ua oki lo’u koalua, ga ou kago faga le ulu”. (I killed my wife, I shot her in the head)

According to Ms. Leavai the defendant does not speak broken Samoan and did not say those words. 

“The defendant maintains he called the Police Commissioner to ask for assistance, and had asked him what to do, whether to go to Tafaigata or Police Station.” 

Ms. Leavai emphasized the defendant is a successful business man who owns a 120 acres of taro plantation, and would not want to do anything to jeopardise that. 

 The matter has been adjourned to February 19 for decision.

 

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