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Saturday, January 13, 2001

Suspect pleads
guilty to assault in
beating death

By Debra Barayuga

A 19-year-old man has pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of first-degree assault rather than be retried for second-degree murder in a fatal August 1999 beating.

Tali Fai also pleaded guilty yesterday to second-degree robbery in an unrelated case before Circuit Judge Karl Sakamoto.

Fai had been charged with second-degree murder for the death of 18-year-old Vaovai Faateleupu during a confrontation outside the Waipahu 7-Eleven.

Fai had told police he kicked Faateleupu three or four times as he lay on the ground. Fai's companion, Matthew Palaita, first struck Faateleupu in the face, causing him to fall to the ground.

The beating left Faateleupu comatose, and he died a few days later.

Fai also participated in a holdup in February 1999 at an Ewa convenience store for which he was initially charged with first-degree robbery.

Under a plea agreement, Fai will serve 10 years' imprisonment for the first-degree assault and second-degree robbery, to be served concurrently, said his attorney, Keith Shigetomi. He will be sentenced Feb. 12.

The court declared a mistrial in October on the second-degree murder charge. Had Fai been convicted of second-degree murder, he would have faced life with the possibility of parole.

At trial, both state and defense experts concluded Faateleupu died of a brain injury stemming from a blow to the head. At issue was who caused the fatal blow.

An expert pathologist who testified for the defense was unequivocal that the fatal blow that killed Faateleupu was not the kicks delivered by Fai, but by the skull fracture the victim sustained when his head struck a concrete trash container before he fell to the ground, said Glenn Kim, deputy prosecutor.

Palaita pleaded earlier to manslaughter and is expected to be sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment in May.

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