Prior to fatal courtroom shooting, Utah defendant promised to behave
Less than an hour before he suddenly charged at a witness during a federal racketeering trial and was shot and fatally wounded by a U.S. marshal, Siale Angilau had a casual conversation with the judge in which he promised to be on his "best behavior."
The conversation began with Angilau's attorney raising a "grievance" about housing conditions at the Weber County jail, where his client was being held.
"He wasn't even able to take a shower, judge," defense attorney Michael Langford said in court Monday, according to a court transcript obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune. "He's locked up in supermax, and he's not in the best of moods, understandably, this morning."
U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell said she would see if Angilau could be moved to the Salt Lake County jail.
"I don't want to interfere with jail security or anything," Campbell said. "But Mr. Angilau has been in front of me and it's been a long time and he's no problem whatsoever."
"You'll be on your best behavior, right, Mr. Angilau?" the judge asked.
"Yeah," Angilau answered.
But at about 9:25 a.m., as the first witness in his two-week trial was telling jurors how young members of the Tongan Crip Gang get into the gang, authorities say Angilau charged the stand with a pen or pencil in his hand.
In response to questions asked by Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Nelson, Vaiola Mataele Tenifa had been testifying that TCG members are either "jumped in" or "blessed in" after a four-year recruitment period that begins when a potential member is as young as 11 years old.
"During that three- to four-year time, what types of things are these younger people doing to get noticed by older TCG members?" Nelson asked Tenifa, according to the transcript.
"Striking up walls, " Tenifa begins, referring to spray-painting graffiti.
Then, according to the transcript, an unidentified voice cuts off Tenifa: "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa."
The transcript then notes that "the defendant attacked the witness and the trial was terminated and the jury excused."
Angilau, 25, was shot several times in the chest and died at a hospital at about 2 p.m. Monday, according to authorities.
Witnesses who were in the courtroom said it appeared Angilau was trying to punch Tenifa when the shooting began.
Angilau's case was being heard before a jury of 12, plus two alternates the first trial held in the new federal courthouse, located at 400 South and West Temple in Salt Lake City.
About a half-hour after the shooting, Campbell reconvened with attorneys and court personnel in another courtroom, where she noted, "I am sure we're just all shocked by what has happened ... "
Upon learning that Angilua was still alive at that point, the judge said she believed the episode necessitated declaring a mistrial meaning the trial would have to be started anew with another jury.
"Given what this jury has experienced, I cannot see that we could go forward and give Mr. Angilau a fair trial on these charges," Campbell said, according to the transcript.
Later Monday morning, the judge issued a mistrial order, noting that she had met with jurors and observed that "most of the jury members are visibly shaken and upset by this episode."
Although the jurors hearing Siale Angilau's case were excused after the shooting, Campbell signed an order Monday afternoon extending the term of service for the jury "until counseling is no longer needed."
According to the court transcript, Campbell concluded her Monday morning on-the-record by apologizing to attorneys and court personnel for the traumatic event.
"This is not the way that we wanted to initiate our first trial in our lovely new courthouse," the judge said, "but these things happen, and I can just say thanks to all the staff personnel who did so well."
Angilau was among 17 TCG members and associates indicted on racketeering charges in May 2010.
Federal prosecutors allege the gang has committed murders, robberies and assaults to expand its operation in the Salt Lake Valley over two decades.
Of the 16 other TCG members indicted in the racketeering case, six defendants took plea deals, six were convicted in September 2011 after a five-week trial, two were acquitted, and charges were dismissed against two defendants in 2012.
Court documents allege Angilau was involved in an incident in which bullets were fired at two U.S. marshals in August 2007, for which he had been serving time at the Utah State Prison. The racketeering case also linked Angilau to several violent convenience store robberies between 2002 and 2007.
Tenifa, who is serving up to 30 years at the Utah State Prison on 2001 convictions for robbery and aggravated assault, was not injured in the attack.
Tenifai is "a former, and recent, member of TCG" who agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors, according to court documents.
In the week before the trial, Angilau's attorney had filed a motion objecting to the inclusion of Tenifa's testimony on the basis that, among other things, Tenifa had a "probable personal bias against Mr. Angilau."
According to Langford's motion, Tenifa was pulled into the case just two weeks before the start of the trial to implicate Angilau as an active member of the TCG.
In the brief time that Tenifa was on the stand, he never uttered Angilau's name, according to the transcript. But he did detail the recruitment process of the TCG and how the gang operated a critical step in getting a conviction in a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act case, which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
To bring charges under RICO, prosecutorshad to show that the Tongan Crip Gang actually exists, and that members of the gang committed crimes to enhance their standing in the gang and expand the gang's operations.
When Angilau and 16 other TCG members were indicted in May 2010, federal, state and local officials said they had taken a major step toward "dismantling the gang as a criminal organization."
Prosecutors assembled evidence of dozens of discreet gang-related crimes from beer thefts to shootings committed by TCG members dating back to 2002.
But during opening statements in the September 2011 trial for eight TCG members, defense attorney Scott C. Williams said the federal RICO case was not appropriate because there was no evidence the group was an organized criminal enterprise.
He said the defendants in the federal case were part of the gang for "cultural" reasons, and that many in TCG joined to find a sense of belonging and because relatives and neighbors before them joined not because they sought to build a professional crime organization.
"TCG is more 'T' than 'C'," Williams said at the time. "It's more about being Tongan."
Tribune reporter Tom Harvey contributed to this story.
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