Three guilty of arson

By Tina Mata'afa-Tufele 20 June 2020, 6:00PM

The Supreme Court has found three men guilty of arson, each facing a possible 14 years in prison, for setting two homes alight in Taelefaga, Fagaloa last September.

Supreme Court Justice Fepulea’i Ameperosa Roma handed down the decision on Friday. 

The defendants in the case were Pisi Atiifale, Vaiafai Tulima and Sosaiete Fuiava.

The men were jointly charged with one count of arson which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment.

They denied burning two homes belonging to Amataga Fialele, one of which was a Samoan guesthouse (faletalimalo) on 20 September.  

The cases were heard over a two-day trial last week.

Justice Fepulea’i told the defendants he accepted evidence that the three men worked together to start the fires that burned two homes belonging to Fialele Amataga, one residence and a Samoan guesthouse (faletalimalo).

The men were alleged to have used a three-pound empty corned beef can to pour gasoline on the two structures and start the fire with matches.

Atiifale, identified as “Pisi” by witnesses in the trial, started the blaze; Justice Fepulea’i stated when he read his decision.

A witness testified that Atiifale did confess to starting the fire.

The court is also satisfied that Tulima and Fuiava helped start the fires.

“The fire that destroyed these homes didn’t just happen. The fire was not caused by accident,” Justice Fepulea’i said.

He noted that Fuiava provided a motive for the arson and told Police they set the fires because they were not happy with Amataga.

Amataga, was previously banished from the village and Fuiava told police he and his co-defendants were unhappy that Amataga re-entered the village and walked around after he was banished.

During the trial, a prosecution witness, Toilalo M. Ropeti, 54, who is from Taelefaga, told the court the two homes that were destroyed by fire in September last year belonged to his mother’s parents. He and his siblings contributed money to building the two homes.

The fires happened after he went to the parcel of land where the homes once stood to “clean the land,” Ropeti said.

 “When we went to clean our land, that is where the problem started… the matai of our village stopped us and the matai of our village told us to go and see Leota at his house. So we held off on our work and we went to see Leota.”

“My mind was very disturbed because the land, it is ours, was already decided in the courts…but the spokesperson for the village said our family is not clean to clean the land anymore and that the land is now with the village.”

Fialele, the sa’o (high chief) of their family was previously banished from the village by the village council, Ropeti testified.

The men will appear for their sentencing next week Friday, 26 June, 2020.

Tulima is the only defendant among the three who is being held in custody due to charges in a separate matter.

Tulima explained he will appear in court next week on Tuesday for his other matter.

The prosecution had asked that all three defendants be remanded in custody, but only Tulima was remanded in custody while Atiifale and Fuiava were remanded on bail.

By Tina Mata'afa-Tufele 20 June 2020, 6:00PM

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