Accused step-daughter rapist retracts guilty plea
A man who had pleaded guilty to raping his step-daughter, and later accused of raping his other step-daughter while out on bail is now seeking to plead his innocence to the matters.
The defendant, Peto Paulo, who is currently being held in custody, appeared before Chief Justice Satiu Simativa Perese on Thursday.
Two applications from the defendant were heard by the court on Thursday. Paulo asked to be granted bail and then to vacate the guilty plea he had originally made to the first offence.
On the first allegation, alleged to have taken place in 2017, Paulo faces charges including indecent assault against a dependent family member and one count of insulting words.
For the second incident, he is facing two counts of sexual conduct with a young person with the second victim and a charge of rape.
The prosecutor on the case, Fuifui Ioane, opposes bail for the defendant citing his failure to appear in court for the matter concerning the alleged first sexual offence against his stepdaughter.
When Paulo was granted bail on the first matter, he is alleged to have skipped a court date in September of 2018, subsequent to which he allegedly re-offended.
After Paulo’s non-appearance a warrant for his arrest was issued.
When the defendant found himself in court again to answer to charges for raping his other step-daughter, the investigating officer discovered his previous warrant.
After the defendant was charged for the two separate incidents, he applied for bail again.
A bail hearing was held in September 2019.
At the bail hearing, his then-defence counsel, Leota Tima Leavai, entered guilty pleas to the four lesser charges.
The defendant maintained his innocence for the rape charge and it proceeded to trial.
The trial was held in December of 2019. On behalf of her client, Leota was prepared to enter a plea of guilty to the rape charge.
But before Supreme Court Justice Vui Clarence Nelson, Paulo raised his hand and expressed his wish to change his guilty pleas on all four counts.
Leota withdrew as Paulo’s defence attorney.
In an affidavit she provided for the case, Leota said she did not force the defendant to plead guilty. She also alleged Paulo had admitted that he could not control his sexual urges when he saw his step-daughter.
He is now represented by defence attorney Afamasaga Michael Soonalole.
The matter was adjourned to January of 2020 with Afamasaga engaged as defence counsel.
The Chief Justice has reserved his decision on the applications.
He is scheduled to deliver his ruling on the defendant’s applications early next month on 4 August.