Judge overrides murder verdict
A prison inmate accused of murdering a New Zealander by putting him into a water barrel in his Samoan prison cell has been found not guilty.
The verdict came despite a panel of assessors saying he was guilty.
Aucklander Hans Dalton, 28, had been taken to Samoa's Tafaigata Prison on Christmas Day 2012, news website Talamua reported. He was found dead next day, upside down in the water barrel. His death was initially treated as suicide.
Prisoner Jonathan Patrick Crichton, 22, of American Samoa, has been on trial in the Supreme Court in Mulinu'u, Apia, over Dalton's death but was yesterday found not guilty by Justice Lesa Rapi Va'ai.
The judge overruled the verdict by four assessors who had found him guilty.
After the verdict Crichton hugged Dalton's mother Christine Wilson and his brother and nephew from Auckland.
"Thank God it has ended and I feel strengthened by the court's decision," Crichton said.
The news website quoted one of Dalton's local relatives as saying: "I thank the honourable judge for the right decision."
Crichton is serving a life sentence for murder committed in 2012.
Dalton, a mental patient, had been in Samoa when the country was hit by a cyclone, causing severe damage. He was unable to get medication and became aggressive. He was taken to hospital and then the police took him to Tafaigata Prison.
At the trial the prosecution said Crichton became angry at Dalton's swearing, calling out, punching the door and wall all night.
Crichton entered Dalton's room by unlocking a padlock and drowned him in a 44-gallon drum half-filled with water inside the room, it was claimed. The water was used to flush the toilet.
Crichton allegedly admitted his action in a statement to police, but that was later contested during the trial.
Police Inspector Samuelu Afamasaga read out part of Crichton's police statement: "I pushed Hans to the wall, grabbed his feet and pushed him head first into the gallon of water."
He then went back to his cell.
"I got scared by what I did so I went back, looked at his legs then called out to the people on duty that a man had killed himself," the statement said.
Crichton said Afamasaga had threatened him over the statement, saying: "I believed Hans had committed suicide."
Justice Lesa will give formal reasons on Friday for why he overruled the assessors' verdict.