A man has been found guilty of setting fire to a woman’s house in Tatakamotonga knowing that there were people in the house at the time he committed the crime.
Tevita Lao wilfully and without lawful justification set fire to a house which belonged to ‘Amelia Lao on 8 December 2015.
Lord Chief Justice Owen Paulsen found him guilty of serious arson and remanded him in custody for sentence.
Tevita was drunk and he beat up his wife when he got home and found out there was no food for him that evening, the court was told.
At one stage Tevita was seen sprinkling the house with substance from a bottle which the court believed it was some accelerant.
“In my view, the combination of the evidence of Kaneisini concerning seeing him with a bottle taken from the kitchen and sprinkling liquid around, asking for a match even though he did not receive one, the fact that the seat of the fire is seen by ‘Apiloni to be in the accused and his partner’s bedroom and involved the burning of clothes and a suitcase also, as well as his noticing a smell of benzene, the consistency of this with other witnesses who saw the fire start on that side of the house point to the accused’s involvement in starting this fire”, Justice Paulsen said.
Mr Paulsen said he accepted the evidence of the witness Kaneisini Kioa, 14, that she had seen the accused come back drunk in the late evening and had seen him with a bottle scattering some liquid in the area of the hallway around his bedroom.
Mr Paulsen said: “I found her a well-spoken, 14 year old who gave a careful account of what she saw, and I had no reason to doubt the accuracy of her account. Her grandmother confirmed that she had been earlier watching videos on a laptop that evening as she had said before the fire.”
“I accept Kaneisini had heard the accused shouting outside “when it’s called for burning there will be burning, when it’s called for fire, there will be fire.” She assisted her great grandmother to get out of the house. I consider that the accused’s words outside before the fire could be taken to evidence his awareness of the fact that a fire would occur.
Tevita denied sprinkling the property with substance from a bottle but the judge did not buy it.
“I cannot see any justification for this in the circumstances of this case other than his using some accelerant”, Justice Paulsen said.
The court was told that the month before the incident Tevita had set fire to a suitcase of clothes belonging to his child, because he had been upset with his partner. The burning of the suitcase had taken place outside.
The accused represented himself in court while Fakatou acted on behalf of the prosecution.