Judge Mata Tuatagaloa tough on domestic violence in attempted murder case

 

Samoa’s Courts and Administration building, Mulinu’u

By Lagi Keresoma

APIA, SAMOA – MONDAY 15 AUGUST 2016: Supreme Court Judge, Mata Tuatagaloa has sentenced 41 year old Faleula man, Uso Auvele Taumata Bragovits to 11 years and 9 months to jail on the charge of attempted murder.

On the charge of being armed with a dangerous weapon namely a machete, Bragovits was convicted and discharged in a case of domestic violence.

“Men are still treating women as property and unless that mindset is changed, women are no longer safe, and men with such violent attitude should not be allowed out to society,” she said of the case where a woman was seriously wounded and scarred for life from a machete attack.

She also made reference to Justice Vui Clarence Nelson’s comments in a similar case, where he said it is “domestic violence at its worst”.

Prosecution asked the Court for 12 year as a starting point for sentencing whilst the defense asked for 10 years.

Justice Tuatagaloa said the application by both parties does not bind the Court to its decision and went on to use 15 years as a starting point for sentencing.

For the charge of attempted murder, Bragovits was sentence to 15 years. Then the Court deducted 6 months accounting for his banishment from the village and the fine his family paid the village.

Another 6 months was deducted for the traditional apology – ifoga his family performed to the family of the victim.

Another 15% discount was deducted when he pleaded guilty to the charge.

The Court’s normal discounted practice is 25% if the defendant pleaded guilty to the offence at the outset of the case, however, in Bragovits’ case, he originally pleaded not guilty then changed his plea to a guilty a few days later.

Overall, he has to serve 11 years and 9 months at Tafa’igata prison, and the number of days he was in custody will be deducted from the sentence.

The Case
The offence with which Bragovits was sentenced started from 2 October 2015 at Faleula. Bragovits and the victim were lovers until the victim ended the relationship, which angered the defendant.

According to the police summary of facts, Bragovits who was armed with a knife  unlawfully entered the victims house at around 11.00pm. The victim was sleeping and Bragovits used the knife to rip the victims’ clothes.

The victim woke up and saw the defendant, and reported the incident to the police the following day.

Fearing for her life, she successfully asked for a protection order from the Court and her case against Bragovits was scheduled to be heard in the District Court.

However, prior to the hearing, Bragovits attacked the victim while she was on her way to early mass 22 October 2015.Accompanying her was her 14 year old son and niece.

Bragovits was waiting for her with a machete at an area close to the church, and as the victim reached the church gate, Bragovits sprung and attacked.

Uso Auvele Taumata Bragovits (in green shirt) with lawyer Pa'u Mulitalo Pa'u outside court

Uso Auvele Taumata Bragovits (in green shirt) with lawyer Pa’u Mulitalo Pa’u outside court

 

Medical report
Justice Tuatagaloa said the wounds according to the medical report were very serious and will scar her for the rest of her life.

The wound on her neck was 15cm deep which also split her right ear and the right side of her face. A 40cm wound on her upper back and one of her fingers had to be amputated.

Doctors had to perform surgery on her the morning she was brought in, due to the seriousness of the wounds, said justice Tuatagaloa.

Aggravating factors
The aggravating factors the prosecutor highlighted that should warrant a custodian sentence for Bragovits include:
·         The vulnerability of the victim at the time of the attack
·         The use of the machete to commit the offence
·         The premeditated action of the attacker
·         The injuries sustained by the victim
·         The savagery and impact of the attack
·         Breaching of the court order.

Defense mitigating factors
Defense lawyer Pa’u Mulitalo Pa’u said the offence was “incidental not premeditated” as submitted by the prosecutor.

He also said the victim was partly blamed for the attack.

The victim gave the defendant false hope when she agreed to marry the defendant.

Pa’u said Bragovits was on his way to where the aumaga were  on the morning of the incident, and met the victim who was on her way to mass.

He wanted to talk to her but she swore at him, hence the attack.

Judge Tuatagaloa’s comments
Judge Mata Tuatagaloa denied the amended summary of facts presented by prosecution and concentrated on the original one.

On the defense arguments, she said whether the attack was “incidental or premeditated, it does not excuse the ghastly and cowardly attack on the victim.”

“I found part B and C of the defense mitigating factors insulting and offensive.”

Judge Tuatagaloa was surprised that such a submission came from a well-educated person, and she referred such comments to the times when people were still living in caves.

The defense lawyers’ comments prompted Judge Tuatagaloa to say that “women will not be safer around men.”

She said domestic violence is occurring at every community but if this is the perception of men on women, then the Samoan proverb ‘O le i’oimata o le tuagage o lona tuafafine’ – the pupil of the man’s eye is his sister,” has failed.

“Men are still treating women as property and unless that mindset is changed, women are no longer safe, and men with such violent attitude should not be allowed out to society,” he said.

She also made reference to Justice Vui Clarence Nelson’s comments in a similar case, where he said it is “domestic violence at its worst”.

As for breaching the court order, Justice Tuatagaloa said, “the court does not take it lightly.”

The Court noted that Bragovits had a good educational background. He attended university and had a good job in New Zealand. He returned to Samoa in 2011 to look after his family and entered Piula Theological College. He was expelled from Piula in 2013 due to alcoholism.

She then sentenced Bragovits to 11 years and 9 months to Tafa’igata prison.

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