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Bail reduced in strong-arm robbery case

Defender: 315-pound teenager merely used size and 'inherent physical intimidation'

Posted: Thursday, July 09, 2009

A Superior Court judge on Wednesday halved the bail of a convicted felon accused of a strong-arm robbery while on probation.

Judge Ethan Windahl reduced the bail of Salesi "George" Fifita, 19, from $25,000 to $12,800 and required a third party custodian during a hearing Wednesday morning. Fifita has pleaded not guilty to a felony robbery charge for allegedly stealing a purse from a woman in April, though Public Defender Eric Hedland said in court a plea deal is in the works.

"As a reality, Mr. Fifita is probably going to be doing some jail time," he said.

Hedland argued for reduced bail because his client needs to tie up some personal affairs in advance. Fifita faces at least 17 months in prison for violating probation if convicted of the robbery. Fifita is accused of stealing a Dolce-Gabbana purse valued at $3,000 with a $500 digital camera inside from a woman in the Mendenhall Valley on April 23.

His probation terms stem from a conviction last year in a separate felony theft charge for stealing money from a 16-year-old boy in August on Delta Drive.

Assistant District Attorney Angela Kemp argued against reducing the bail and called Fifita a risk to the community. He continued to commit crimes while on probation since his sentencing in November, she said.

"Since then he has committed an array of different offenses," Kemp said. "It's troubling at best."

Fifita has been connected to two similar theft cases where charges have not been brought, she said. Fifita allegedly forced a 15- or 16-year-old boy against a van at the Nugget Mall parking lot earlier this year and demanded money, Kemp said. On a separate occasion, he allegedly told an undercover informant that he could get OxyContin pills for $160 each, took an undisclosed amount of cash and never returned with any drugs, she said.

Hedland said he doesn't believe charges will materialize in the OxyContin case and said to the best of his knowledge Fifita has never been alleged to have used a weapon or ever threatened anyone with a weapon.

"Basically what has been alleged is he has used his size and his kind of inherent physical intimidation to get small amounts of property from people," he said.

Fifita is of Polynesian descent and is listed in court records as standing 5-feet 9-inches tall and weighing 315 pounds.

"In the current (case) it is alleged that he physically took the purse, not that he even punched her or beat her down or threatened this person," Hedland said.

Windahl, who is sitting in for Judge Philip Pallenberg while he's on leave, agreed to reduce the bail but said he felt a bond of $12,800 was still necessary. He called it a community safety issue due to the present charge and the new information about other alleged offenses.

"It appears he hasn't got the message yet," Windahl said.

Fifita remained locked up in the Lemon Creek Correctional Center as of press time Wednesday. The trial is set for Aug. 17.

• Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or by e-mail at eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.



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