Four men on trial for murder

Four men appeared in the Supreme Court on Tuesday and Wednesday to answer a charge of murder in relation to an incident at Faleasiu back in 2018. 

The defendants, Puka Wesley, Faasipa Matuu, Milo Lilomaiava and Peato Upu, appeared before Supreme Court Justice Tafaoimalo Leilani Tuala Warren for pre-trial proceedings.

They each face a charge of murder (with an alternate charge of manslaughter) for allegedly beating a man to death in Faleasiu in February 2018. The defendants have pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.

Lilomaiava is represented by Unasa Iuni Sapolu; Wesley is represented by Mauga Precious Chang; Matuu is represented by Leota Tima Leavai and Upu is represented by Sarona Ponifasio.

Prosecutors from the Attorney General’s Office are Lucy Sio Ofoia and Quentin Sauaga.

Several issues arose causing Justice Tafaoimalo to re-schedule the assessors’ trial to begin on Monday 22 June 2020.

Leota voiced a challenge in regard to three of the five assessors who were assembled and so three (two men and one woman) assessors were excused from the panel. Her fellow defence lawyers had no objections to the panel of assessors.

The two remaining assessors were sworn in. The court must find replacements for the three people who were excused from the panel.

“With two remaining assessors, we will not be able to proceed with the trial today…we need to find three assessors,” said Justice Tafaoimalo.

She said the next time there is a challenge to the assessors, a reason must be provided because no reason was provided by Leota.

Three of the defendants – Lilomaiava, Matuu and Upu, through their lawyers, challenged the written caution statements from police who will testify as prosecution witnesses in the trial.

Leota argued that Matuu’s caution statement was improperly obtained and the procedure was unfair.

Mauga argued that Wesley’s caution statement was improperly obtained.

The basis of Lilomaiava’s challenge, said his defense lawyer Unasa was Section 20, in regard to her client’s state of mind at the time. She said the evidence was improperly obtained.

“What’s happening with his state of mind?,” Justice Tafaoimalo asked, adding that the challenge must be based on a mental and intellectual disability, under Section 21 and not Section 20.

Prosecutor Ofoia argued that given the mental and intellectual disability of the defendant, a more complicated medical question was posed. She said defense must prove that her client suffers from a mental or intellectual disability.

Ofoia questioned what disability and asked for evidence to prove that Lilomaiava has a mental illness.

“That will…assist us in terms of whether there is a need to call a doctor if mental disability is now…which is a completely different issue,” she said.

Unasa clarified that it was in fact Section 20 on which her challenge is based.

 “So I think all three challenges are under the basis of Section 20,” said Justice Tafaoimalo.

Unasa eventually withdrew the application to challenge the cautioned statement.

Police officers who questioned Matuu and Wesley were called to the witness stand and were questioned on their cautioned statements obtained from the defendants.

Justice Tafaoimalo ordered that details of those proceedings (where the cautioned statements were read out loud in open court) be suppressed in the news media. The same statements will be provided as evidence during the trial.

The hearing for the challenges from Matuu and Wesley started Tuesday and continued through Wednesday.

The trial starts next week on Monday and is expected to last five days.

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