OPD files 14th motion in sexual abuse of minor case


Assistant public defender Heather M. Zona or the Office of the Public Defender filed last Wednesday the 14th motion as counsel of a defendant in a 2016 sexual abuse of a minor case, and blamed the Office of the Attorney General for the “unwarranted delay” of the trial.

This time, Zona filed a motion to dismiss with prejudice the case against defendant Joseph Seman Epina for violation of his right to a speedy trial.

Dismiss with prejudice means the government cannot re-file the case.

The second amended information charged the 45-year-old Epina with sexual abuse of a minor in the first degree and disturbing the peace. He allegedly sexually abused a 12-year-old girl on March 12, 2016.

Zona said Epina has been forced to wait nearly three years in jail for his case to be resolved.

Zona said the defendant has been married to his wife for 22 years and they have four daughters.

She said Epina and his family have suffered greatly as a result of this case.

Zona said when Super Typhoon Yutu hit Saipan last October, Epina was in jail and could not help his family prepare for the typhoon or work on the house.

The Epina’s family does not qualify for Federal Emergency Management Agency’s aid to fix the house as they are renters, not owners.

She said the family is trying to save up money to finance the repairs, however, at this time the home remains damaged.

Zona asserted that a criminal defendant has a constitutional right to a speedy trial under both the CNMI and the U.S. constitutions.

She said dismissal is appropriate because the government is responsible for this substantial and unwarranted delay.

Zona said her filing of motions to compel discovery, and also to challenge the reliability of the sole complaining witness in the case are in furtherance of Epina’s right to a fair trial.

She said Epina has been forced to file discovery requests due to refusal of the OAG to follow the rules.

Zona added that Epina would not have to pursue a memory taint hearing had law enforcement refrained from coercive and suggestive interview tactics in the first instance.

Zona said finally, Epina has no control over the Superior Court’s schedule in deciding motions, or in the timing, quality, or accuracy of recordings provided by the court.

“We are now nearly three years out from Mr. Epina’s initial arrest and still he has not been to trial due to no fault of his own. This factor weighs in favor of a dismissal,” Zona pointed out.

When former prosecutor Elizabeth Weintraub left OAG in 2017, the case was assigned to then-assistant attorney general Teri C. Tenorio. Last week, Tenorio also left OAG.

Saipan Tribune counted only three motions that the OAG filed—to quash subpoenas.

Last Tuesday, Superior Court Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho granted OAG’s motion to quash the subpoena served on former prosecutor Teri Tenorio and other OAG staff.

Ruling that Epina’s subpoenas do not satisfy requirement, Camacho said such subpoenas “constitute an improper fishing expedition.”

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com

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