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Suspect behind bars 4 years without prosecution

By Fili Sagapolutele PAGO PAGO, American Samoa, (Samoa News, August 12, 2009) - A man who was accused four years ago of a crime, is still in jail, although he was found to be incompetent to stand trial due to mental problems by a medical specialist two years ago .

Keli Williams was charged in 2005 with assault in the first degree and his attorney, Assistant Public Defender Terry Lovelace filed recently a motion to dismiss the case due to lack of prosecution.

It appears nothing has been done to move the case forward for a resolution while the defendant remains behind bars at the Territorial Correctional Facility.

A hearing for the motion was on Monday’s calendar for the High Court, but Lovelace said neither he nor the government was aware the matter was up for a hearing and therefore it has been continued to a later time.

Lovelace told Samoa News that during Monday’s hearing the government informed Chief Justice J. Michael Kruse it wants to file a "civil commitment" petition, which means, if accepted, the criminal case will be dismissed.

Based on Williams’ records with the Public Defender’s office, Lovelace said a Hawai΄i psychiatrist conducted on June 6, 2007 a mental evaluation of the defendant, who was found to be incompetent to stand trial and the reason for the government’s "civil commitment" petition to be filed with the court.

American Samoa Code Annotated Title 13, Chapter 15, sections 13.1501 to 13.1510, titled "Judicial Commitment of Mentally Ill or Deficiency" states in part: "In the event of commitment, it shall be the responsibility of the director [of Health] to insure an on-going program of medical and psychiatric treatment required for the patient’s disability."

The law also provides procedures in carrying out commitment hearings and certification of the person to be committed to the care of the Health Department. It further provides the "causes for commitment" which includes the individual being "a danger to self [and] others," and "care for self to such a degree as to make continual care necessary."

The biggest problem faced by American Samoa is the territory has no facility specifically to care for inmates or others who have mental problems.

However, local laws state persons committed under Chapter 15 may be transferred to institutions outside of the territory considered suitable for their care by order of the health director.

Last month the government filed information with the High Court saying that the Territorial Office of Fiscal Reform (TOFR) has processed the necessary paperwork with the U.S. Department of Interior to secure funds for the mental health facility project.

Additionally they have processed the internal ASG paperwork for the necessary Land Use Permits and the project is currently in the planning and design phase.

Under this plan, the committee has decided to integrate mental health services with primary healthcare services and are co-locating the mental health staff at the Tafuna Community Health Center (TCHC).

A woman accused of helping her brother-in-law escape the territory to avoid prosecution appeared in the High Court yesterday and entered a guilty plea to a lesser charge.

Akala V. Paulo, 35, was originally charged with one count of aiding and abetting flight to avoid prosecution, a class C felony punishable by up to seven years in prison and a fine of US$5,000 or both.

According to the criminal complaint against Paulo, she aided and abetted Ioane Sulusi to leave the jurisdiction of the American Samoa government in order for Sulusi to avoid prosecution. This occurred Apr. 14 this year.

During yesterday’s hearing, Paulo’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Terry Lovelace informed the court that after consultation with the government on Monday both sides have reached a "conspiracy" plea in this case, which both the defense and government believe is appropriate.

Lovelace said a new plea agreement was filed yesterday morning which he read aloud for the court, wherein Paulo pled guilty to "conspiracy to hinder prosecution" a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail, a fine of up to US$1,000 or both. By pleading guilty to the lesser charge, Paulo admitted that on Apr. 14 she agreed to provide Sulusi money so he could go to Samoa, knowing Sulusi was involved in an assault case, said Lovelace.

Chief Justice Michael Kruse accepted the plea agreement after questioning Paulo, and advising her on a number of issues, including her right to a jury trial.

Kruse said the defendant remains out on bond and set sentencing for Oct. 2.

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