AG appeals Justice Vaai’s ruling on Dalton’s death

Justice Lesatele Rapi Va’ai

Justice Lesatele Rapi Va’ai

By Lagi Keresoma

APIA: MONDAY 24 FEBRUARY 2014:  The Office of the Attorney General is challenging Justices Lesatele Rapi Vaai’s decision to overturn the Assessors guilty verdict on Jonathan Patrick Crichton.

Attorney General Aumua Ming Leung Wai confirmed in an email to Talamua his office’s stand.

“My Office has filed an appeal,” he said.

He did not respond to the request for the grounds of the appeal. The appeal will be heard  in April 2014.

Two weeks ago, Justice Vaai overturned the Assessors guilty verdict  on Crichton  after a week of hearing.

Crichton, of Leififi and Tafuna American Samoa,   was charged over the death of Hans Dalton, a New Zealand mental patient who died at Tafaigata prison on the 26 December 2012.

During the trial proceedings, Crichton  made three statements to the police.

The first statement on the 26 December 2012 stated that he saw Hans body in the drum of water and called out to the police on duty that a man has committed suicide in the cell.

In his second and third statement made on the 8 and 9 of January 2013, he said he used the key from a can of tin fish to open the lock to Hans room and admitted killing Hans.

Under cross examination, Jonathan disputed his statements saying that he admitted to the killing because he was  under stress and was intimidated by the investigating police officer.

A testimonial from a locksmith pointed out that the lock to Hans room was not tampered with.

The locksmith, told the Court it was “impossible” to open the lock of the cell with the opener of a tin of pork luncheon as alleged by the prosecution.

Justice Va’ai raised a few questions during the trial.

He even compared not only the physique but the height of Hans to that of Jonathan.

Justice Vaai’s power to overturn the verdict is spelt out in section 100 of the Criminal Procedure Act.

In his written decision, Justice Vaai outlined his reason for overturning the Assessors guilty verdict.

“Given the evidence I have outlined, I am the opinion that the prosecution has not proven beyond reasonable doubt that it was the accused who placed the deceased upside down in the 44 gallon drum. Accordingly I reversed the guilty verdict and acquit the accused.”

The guilty verdict was a unanimous decision by the Assessors of four.

Hans’s family who supported Jonathan throughout the trial is now suing the Ministry of Police and the Ministry of Health for more than $20 million.

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