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Court upholds not guilty verdict for father

The Supreme Court has upheld a not guilty verdict reached by a panel of assessors in relation to a father accused of raping his own biological daughter.

Justice Tafaoimalo Leilani Tuala-Warren handed down the decision last month which acquitted Paulo Ilalio Fonoti of Nuu fou and Afega of two sexual charges. 

The accused, through his lawyer Unasa Iuni Sapolu, pleaded not guilty to one count of rape and digital penetration of his daughter in April last year.

After an assessor trial the man was unanimously found not guilty of both charges in June this year. But the prosecutor and Attorney General’s Office lawyer, Ann Matalasi, filed an application under the Criminal Procedure Act 2016 for Justice Tafaoimalo to reconsider the verdict that the panel of assessors reached.

After considering evidence from the hearing, Justice Tafaoimalo ruled that she did not find the verdict unreasonable. 

“Reasonable assessors ought to have entertained a reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the accused, and it was open to them to reject the alleged victim and her mother’s evidence about the alleged offending as they obviously did in this case,” she said. 

“It was open also to them to infer from the evidence, especially the alleged victim’s evidence that she disliked her father and instead liked a man by the name of Mika as her father is cruel and Mika gives them money. 

“In relation to the mother’s evidence about the pervert of a person by the name of Pati to the alleged victim, it was open to the assessors to infer that the alleged victim had been sexually abused prior to the alleged offending.” 

Justice Tafaoimalo added it was also open for the assessors to make inferences – following a doctor’s examination of the alleged victim – that her condition could have been the result of earlier abuse by a person named Pati. 

In these circumstances, Justice Tafaoimalo said she is not satisfied that the assessors’ verdict was unreasonable or could not be supported in relation to the evidence. 

“The assessors’ unanimous verdict means that they were not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt of the guilt of the accused,” she said. 

“The not guilty verdict handed down by the assessors in relation to the charges of rape and sexual connection with a young person by way of digital penetration remains and the accused is acquitted of both charges against him.

“For the foregoing reasons, the section 136(4)(b) CPA 2016 application by the Prosecution to order a retrial where the verdict is not guilty is denied.”  

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