Arsonists receive three years, nine months' prison

Three men found guilty of arson for burning down two homes in Taelefaga, Fagaloa have been sentenced to three years and nine months in prison.

The wives and children of the defendants - Pisi Atiifale, Vaiafai Tulima and Sosaiete Fuiava - cried outside the courtroom on Friday after the sentence was handed down.

The Supreme Court case was presided over by Justice Fepulea'i Ameperosa Roma, who found the men guilty of the charges last Friday. 

During sentencing, Atiifale asked the court to consider that he is a faithful member of his Church and said that he was innocent; Tulima and so Fuiava also denied the charges. 

Even in the pre-sentence report, the men denied setting two homes belonging to Fialelele Amataga on fire on the night of 20 September, 2019.

The fires destroyed a residential home and a Samoan guesthouse (faletalimalo) belonging to Amataga, a matai of Taelefaga who was banished from Fagaloa by the village council but had returned to Taelefaga to prepare for his wife’s funeral.

Justice Fepulea’i said the fires not only affected the legal homeowners but their families as well. One of Amataga’s brothers, who testified in the trial said all members of their family, he and his siblings, had helped to fund and build the home and guesthouse.

The Judge said that a custodial sentence was warranted because the fires were very costly to the owner and the affected families; the defendants must be deterred from breaking the law again.

Justice Fepule’ai said in determining the sentences for the men, he looked at several old arson cases including one from 2009 that occurred in Matautu, Falelatai.

Some of the village matai and untitled men burned down a home in Matautu and the resulting damages were valued at $560,000.

A fire that happened on 21 November, 2014 was also examined, Justice Fepulea’i said.

The prosecutor in the case, Quentin Sauaga, from the Attorney General’s Office, requested five years’ imprisonment as a starting point.

The defence counsel for Atiifale Afamasaga Michael Soonalole asked for a sentencing starting point of three years.

Justice Fepulea’i accepted the prosecution’s recommendation and began at five years. 

He deducted 12 months for their good behaviour while on bail; another three months for the existing penalty imposed by the village council of Taelefaga.

Tulima, the only one among the three defendants already in custody, receives credit for time served.

Justice Fepulea’i told the defendants he accepted the evidence that the three men worked together to start the fires that burned down the residences. 

Police were told the men used a three-pound empty corned beef can to pour gasoline on the two structures before starting the fire with matches. 

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