Attempted murder accused Tulaga to take the stand

The man accused of the attempted murder of a woman he was in a relationship with earlier this year will take the stand on Monday to defend himself. 

Prominent farmer, Peter Tulaga faces four charges of attempted murder, grievous bodily harm, possession of unlicensed firearm and armed with a dangerous weapon. 

He pleaded not guilty to the charges which alleges he shot Frysna Rimoni in the face causing extensive facial injuries to the woman.

The woman survived the incident and is currently in New Zealand undergoing medical treatment.  

The incident occurred at the home of Tulaga’s 73-year-old mother at Vailoa Faleata on 15 January 2019. 

The assessor trial presided by Justice Tafaoimalo Leilani Tuala – Warren began in the Supreme Court last week. 

Tulaga is represented by lawyers, Tauiliili Harry Schuster and Maureen Tuimaleali’ifano. 

Prosecution is led by Assistant Attorney General, Magele Leone Sua assisted by lawyer Ann Matalasi. 

There are more than 30 witnesses, which include police officers, Tulaga's siblings, nurses and doctors as well as overseas experts. 

The last witness to give evidence on Friday at 5:30 p.m. through video link from New Zealand was a specialist on plastic and craniofacial surgeon from Middlemore Hospital, Dr. Jonathan Wheeler. 

His involvement in the case came about when he was asked by another specialist in Middlemore Hospital, namely Dr. Jonathan Heather to be present during examination of Ms. Rimoni due to his craniofacial expertise. 

The Court heard that Dr. Wheeler reviewed a report from Dr. Heather on Ms. Rimoni and it was consistent with his finding. 

His evidence was based on the report by Dr. Heather and his opinion based on his findings during examination of Ms. Rimoni. 

Part of the report states extensive facial boney injuries and exclusive fracture on the right side of her face.

As he held up an x-ray image and photo of Ms. Rimoni, Dr. Wheeler pointed out the laceration to her eyelids and the complete loss of her other lip. 

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“When we look at the picture you can see where her chin is – there is excessive soft tissue,” he explained.

“If we look at image no.2 you can differentiate all the boney picture of the left side of her face has been significantly disrupted along with exclusive fractured on the right side. 

“There is a break in her chin which is indicated here (on the image) and the left eyeball was fractured…and the right eyeball intact had a lot of bleeding.”

As a result of the injuries sustained on eyes of Ms. Rimoni, Dr. Wheeler said the long term effect is that she is permanently blind. 

“The left eyeball has been removed because it was too badly damaged to be saved.  

"The right eyeball was intact and with the help of eye surgeon we decided to leave it there but we found she has no vision on that eye.”

In addition, he also spoke about the long term effect of the facial fracture sustained by the patient. 

“She can’t eat on the left because she has no teeth to chew on the upper jaw,” he told the Court.

“She’s fed through a tube to her stomach because of that. She can’t breathe through her nose she can only breathe through her mouth which means she gets to have a dry mouth and would have trouble with smell and taste.”  

During cross examination, Tauiliili put it to the specialist if it is correct to say that the gunshot injury came from the side of the face. 

In response, Dr. Wheeler said: “The injuries is predominantly on the side, and also if you look at scan (image) the energy from that injury caused, broke the bone and caused problems on the right hand side of her face. 

“It’s the bone that has absorbed all the energy from the explosion.” 

Again, Tauiliili asked if it is correct to say that the angle of the shot is not directly from the front of the face, but from the side. 

Dr. Wheeler said in his opinion the blast came from the very front of the face and exploded out through the side of the face. 

After the evidence from the specialist in New Zealand, lead prosecutor Magele concluded the evidence of prosecution. 

Tauiliili told the Court the defense will be calling three witnesses next week which includes Tulaga. 

Justice Tafaoimalo adjourned the matter to Monday 20 May 2019. 

The assessor trial is expected to deliver its decision after the defense gives evidence.  

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