The panel of five assessors, two women and three men, presiding in the attempted murder trial of prominent farmer Peter Tulaga, 38, have found him guilty as charged.
Tulaga, seated in the front row at the far right of the courtroom bowed his head, cried and wiped the tears from his face as the foreman pronounced the verdict out loud in the Supreme Court's Courtroom No. 4.
Police Constable Kimball S. Memea, a court orderly in Tuesday's proceedings, called attorneys to return to the courtroom at 5:35 p.m.
The assessors went into chambers for deliberation at 4:20 p.m. and came back with a guilty verdict after one hour and fifteen minutes of deliberations.
"Ua fa'amaonia (guilty)," the foreman said.
Family members of the victim Frysna Rimoni, 34, who was airlifted to New Zealand for medical treatment after Tulaga shot her in the face with a single shot break action 12-gauge shotgun on 15 January, 2019, were present for delivery of the verdict
Family members of Tulaga, one of whom testified as a prosecution witness against him, were also in the courtroom.
The passing of judgment ended the close to six-day trial began Tuesday, 14 May and was initially scheduled for four days
Closing statements by prosecution and defense were presented late Tuesday morning after assessors were taken to the crime scene in Vailoa, the home Tulaga shared with his mother.
The crime scene visit was to provide the five assessors with a firsthand look at the bedroom, house and property, which they previously viewed only in photographs taken by police.
State prosecutor Leone Su'a Mailo, in her three hours of closing statements, told assessors: "You now have both sides of the story. We all know both sides of the story cannot be true."
"On January 15, 2019, after 6 p.m., they had an argument which led to Frysna being shot in the face. Her injuries needed a lot of medical intervention and she was airlifted to New Zealand and underwent numerous surgeries in order to save her life," Mailo said.
"After the investigation, Peter was charged and he denies the allegations. The defendant is not obliged to give evidence. Under the law, he is presumed innocent until we have proven him guilty."
In his defense, Tulaga took the witness stand Monday and told the court Rimoni shot herself but not with the break action 12-gauge. The defendant said she tried to commit suicide with a different firearm, a pump action 12-gauge shotgun legally registered in his name.
Tulaga said Rimoni wanted to kill herself when he told her he wanted to end their relationship.
Facebook messages between Tulaga and Rimoni were consistent with the victim's account of what happened in the defendant's bedroom in Vailoa, prosecution said.
Rimoni testified Tulaga, an award-winning farmer, who won best farmer awards in 2016 and 2018, was controlling, violent, jealous, obsessive and he once ran into her work vehicle. He was "out of control," she said.
An exchange of messages between the defendant and the victim on 15 January, that began after 10 a.m., showed a Tulaga that was on the edge, suicidal. He said he was feeling down, weak, hurt and wanted to give up farming.
According to printouts of screenshots of their messages, Tulaga also sent a message that stated: "I want to die," but on Monday he denied sending it and said Rimoni’s family could have edited it.
The defendant told the court that Rimoni was being suicidal on that day and she shot herself because he told her he wanted to end the relationship.
Tulaga said he wanted to end the relationship because Rimoni was having an affair with her aunt Silafaga. The victim denies the claim.
He said he told Rimoni to leave and not come back to his home or land but she cried and said she would kill herself.
Rimoni gave evidence that she has never touched a shotgun in her life and she was sure that Tulaga shot her.
In his closing arguments, defense attorney Faualo Tauiliili Lefau Harry Schuster said there were just two people in the room that day in Vailoa.
"When this happened, it was just two of them in the room on January 15. When the gun went off it was a split second," Faualo said.
"Peter said he was dissatisfied with the victim because she blocked his wife on Facebook and he couldn't contact his kids and wife."
Tulaga testified that he wanted to end their relationship because Rimoni blocked his wife and because she was having an affair with her aunt.
He said he called Rimoni evil and told her not to come back to his house or his land. Tulaga said Rimoni cried and grabbed the shotgun, put it to her head and asked: "Is this what you want?"
The defendant said he told her, "don't do that," and then the gun went off.
Supreme Court Justice Tafaoimalo Leilani Tuala Warren provided assessors with instructions and adjourned court until a verdict was reached.
After the foreman announced the verdict, Justice Tafaoimalo addressed the two lesser charges of possession of an unlicensed firearm and being armed with a dangerous weapon.
She found the defendant guilty of both charges. The fourth charge of causing grievous bodily harm was negated by the guilty verdict for attempted murder.
Tulaga was remanded in custody after the hearing.
He will be sentenced on 28 June, 2019 at 12:30 p.m.