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Father denied bail for sexual offence targeting step daughters

The stepfather of two young girls has been denied bail after the Supreme Court ruled that his guilty plea to several sexual offences is a just cause to detain him in custody. 

Peto Paulo Lesa, of Faleu Manono, is facing four charges of indecent act and one count of insulting words on his two stepdaughters to his estranged wife. He initially pleaded guilty to several sexual charges but has asked the Court to vacate his plea and change it to not guilty. 

Peto through his second lawyer, Afamasaga Michael So'onalole, has also asked to be released on bail. 

But Chief Justice, His Honour Satiu Simativa Perese, denied both applications on Tuesday and ruled that Peto be kept in custody. 

“The defendant having plead guilty to a number of serious sexual offences,” he said.  “I consider that there is just cause for the defendants continued detention pending the sentencing of those matters. 

“The defendant's application for bail is dismissed.” 

Peto initially appeared in court last year to answer to charges of alleged sexual offending against his 15-year-old step daughter.

During those proceedings he entered a not guilty plea and was granted bail. 

However, he breached his bail conditions and allegedly reoffended, this time targeting the sister of the first complainant.

The court heard that he told his first lawyer, Leota Tima Leavai that he could not overcome the temptation. 

The application to vacate guilty plea was in relation to the charges of indecent assault and insulting words on complainant A.  

Mr. Lesa claims that he was mistaken with the nature of the charge when his plea was taken.  

But prosecutor and Attorney General’s Office lawyer Fuifui Ioane opposed the application. 

She argued on the grounds that the defendant was not mistaken as he was represented by a lawyer. 

She added that it is not in the interest of justice to vacate the guilty pleas 

 Defense lawyer Afamasaga had filed an unsigned affidavit to support the application to vacate plea 

Ms. Fuifui objected to this saying it is undated, unsigned and is taken as hearsay evidence.  

The Court heard that affidavit from Peto claimed that he had given instructions to his first counsel Leota to enter a not guilty plea. 

He claimed she instead entered guilty plea for two counts of indecent act. 

The defendant also accused his lawyer of not advising him properly and had instructed her that he strongly denies the charges .

Leota had acted for the defendant at the time the guilty pleas were entered and had filed an affidavit touching on the matters. 

She asserted that on the 18 September 2019 the defendant gave instructions to vacate his pleas from not guilty to guilty with respect to complainant A. 

In relation to complainant B, the defendant vacated his not guilty plea and changed it to guilty plea for the charge of sexual connection and not guilty to rape.  

The lawyer stressed in her affidavit that she did not force the defendant to plead guilty 

But Afamasaga argued that the lack of unsigned instruction suggested that the defendant’s version of events was the correct one that the court could rely on. 

Chief Justice Satiu rejected the submission from Afamasaga. 

He pointed out that the written instructions can lead to unsatisfactory situations such as this where the court has to work out who said what. 

He added that therefore the defendant’s version should be most favourable and more plausible. 

In his discussion, Justice Satiu said the evidence before the court stands that there is unchallenged evidence in relation to Complainant B the defendant told his lawyer he was tempted. 

“The only plausible inference from these statements is that the defendant engaged in activity of sexual nature with Complainant B who was at the time under 16,” he said. 

The Court also considered that the defendant had breached his bail conditions when he allegedly reoffended against the other stepdaughter, who is the sister of the first complainant. 

“In relation to the second step daughter he told his lawyer that he could not overcome the temptation,” he said. 

He then concluded that he prefers the evidence of Leota. 

“Ms. Leavai said the defendant wanted to receive the leniency of the Court if he pleaded guilty. 

“Ms. Leavai’s advice was correct. 

“Not only does a guilty plea demonstrate remorse, but it would have saved the young complainant’s the stress, anxiety and trauma of giving evidence at a trial.” 

Furthermore, Justice Satiu ruled there is no miscarriage of justice which would be occasioned by the defendant’s plea of guilty not being vacated. 

“The defendant has maintained his not guilty plea to the rape charge, and he will be entitled to advance his defence to that charge at a defended hearing.”

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