Duo convicted, fined
The wife of a former E.F.K.S Church Minister has been fined by the District Court for attempting to defeat justice. Elaine Elena Ulia was sentenced by District Court Judge, Vaepule Vaemoa Vaai, yesterday.
She and a staff member of the Samoa Victims Support Group (S.V.S.G), Tumua Luafalealo, were convicted and sentenced as a result of a hearing that had also implicated the Group’s President, Siliniu Lina Chang, and Police Superintendent, Sala’a Salale Sala’a.
Luafalealo was ordered to pay $800 while Ulia was fined $200.
In delivering his ruling, Judge Vaepule said there is no doubt that the charges against the defendants are serious because they go to the heart of the justice system.
“The very idea of averting or attempting to avert the course of justice indicates an element of disaster,” Judge Vaepule said.
He then explained the distinction between the charges against the two defendants.
Luafalealo was charged for an attempt to defeat the course of justice after the charges were dismissed and Ulia was charged for an attempt before the charges were dismissed.
Judge Vaepule reminded that any person who tries to influence a police witness, whether key witness or otherwise, is in the Court’s view a deliberate attempt to defeat the very essence of justice.
“At the outset I want to say, the application by counsel of Tumua for a discharge without conviction is considered inappropriate,” he said.
“In her favour she is a first time offender, 53 years of age and appears to be the bread winner of the family.
“I read her reference attached in the application and I do not honestly see the significance that no money and threat were involved in the charge…I’ve weighed the circumstances and I consider that the appropriate sentence is a fine of $800 tala that is to be paid – in default - or face an imprisonment term of 4 months.”
As for the charge against Ulia, Judge Vaepule said this is also very serious.
However, he pointed out that there are circumstances as to why the sentence would be different.
Like the other defendant, Ulia is a first time defendant.
“It was clear from the evidence and in my judgment that despite what she did she was in the Court’s view a victim of devious conduct by her husband and complainant in these procedures,” said Judge Vaepule.
“She is now without a husband and helping her family with their business. Counsel (Alalatoa) has submitted her client has suffered a lot on the circumstances of the burden of the trial and still suffers up to now.
“A lot of that suffering is attributed to media coverage that the trial was exposed to and a lot of what was covered in that trial came out not because of prosecution but because counsel…most of them with all due respect, was irrelevant to the charges in Court.”
Ulia was then convicted and ordered to pay prosecution costs of $200. Failure to do so would result in a week in prison.
The charges arose from a criminal prosecution against Ulia in 2013 which was dismissed when complainant Susan Stowers had left the country.
The prosecution lawyer was Fepuleai Patrick Fepuleai.
Luafalealo was represented by Taulapapa Brenda Heather-Latu while lawyer Alalatoa Rosella Papali’i represented Ulia.
Prior to sentencing, the lawyers made their submissions.
Taulapapa had asked the Judge to consider mitigating factors of her client being a first offender, financial supporter of the family and respected member of her church. She invited the Court to consider a community sentence.
Alalatoa on the other hand asked the Court to be lenient towards Ulia.
She told the Court the event led to her separation with her husband, resignation from their post as church ministers and public ridicule.
“She’s been through a lot,” said Alalatoa. “It is not to be taken lightly that up until now her parents had looked up to her and as well as the church and to make the decision to resign from parish was a hard one.
“Ms. Ulia is deserving of a second chance and deserving of mercy…should take into account the burden she had to take, the consequence of her marriage, she had to reveal herself and life.”
The lawyer pleaded that her client had suffered enough and give her the chance to rebuild her family and breathe again.
She added Ulia had taken refuge with her parents where she now helps with the business.