A Tongan man in Natrona, United States admitted Tuesday to raping a 17-year-old girl and could face up to 30 years in prison.
Viliami Tuakoi, 59, pleaded guilty in Natrona County District Court to a single count of first-degree sexual abuse of a minor as part of a deal with prosecutors. He will be subject to deportation after he serves his sentence.
Prosecutors had initially accused Tuakoi of raping the young woman at least five times and he faced three felony counts of first-degree sexual abuse of a minor. Each count carried a penalty of up to 50 years in prison. He pleaded not guilty to those charges in May.
Under the conditions of the plea agreement described Tuesday in court, prosecutors dropped two of the three felony charges and will argue for a maximum of 30 years imprisonment at sentencing.
Tuakoi has been a legal resident of the United States since 1979. A Tongan translator participated in the hearing by phone.
Tuakoi hesitated to proceed with the plea deal after the judge listed the rights Tuakoi was surrendering by dropping his not-guilty plea: a trial, the presumption of innocence, and the ability to appeal. He asked for more time, which his lawyer, public defender Dylan Rosalez, explained meant days, not minutes.
Rosalez also explained that the state’s deal had come with a time limit and Rosalez said he had explained that to Tuakoi. Tuakoi had initially wanted to hold out in hopes of a better offer.
“He wants more time to think about it, but when I did the change of plea it was on the understanding that the state had a deadline,” Rosalez told the judge.
Assistant District Attorney Kevin Taheri said that if there was a continuance, he could not guarantee that the plea deal — dropping two of the felony charges and capping prison time at 30 years — would remain on the table.
“The decision is yours,” District Court Judge Thomas Sullins told Tuakoi. “You need to make that decision at this time.”
Tuakoi was silent.
“What is your decision, sir?” Sullins asked.
Tuakoi pleaded guilty.
When asked to admit for the record that he had raped the young woman in January of 2017, as stated in the felony charge, Tuakoi corrected the judge through his translator, saying the rape he was admitting to happened in April of last year.
According to heavily redacted court reports, Tuakoi held the girl down on at least one occasion, moving her from the bed to the floor so that other people in the house would not hear the assault. The girl told investigators that she had tried to make noise so that someone would come in and stop the rape.
Tuakoi faces deportation after he serves his time. His wife and three adult children live in Natrona County.
Tuakoi’s lawyer requested that the bond be reduced to $10,000, given that the Tuakoi children, aged 23, 27 and 34, require home health care and his prior criminal history is minimal — a theft case in the early ‘90s.
The judge denied that request. Bond remained at $50,000.
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