Man killed in court had tried to prevent witness with 'personal bias' from testifying

Published: Tuesday, April 22 2014 2:10 p.m. MDT

Siale Angilau, 25, was shot and killed by a U.S. marshal Monday in federal court after Angilau lunged at a witness who was testifying against him. Angilau's attorneys had tried to prevent the witness from testifying during Angilau's trial, saying he had a Siale Angilau, 25, was shot and killed by a U.S. marshal Monday in federal court after Angilau lunged at a witness who was testifying against him. Angilau's attorneys had tried to prevent the witness from testifying during Angilau's trial, saying he had a "personal bias" against their client and "highly suspect" credibility. (Utah Department of Corrections)

SALT LAKE CITY — The defense team for a man shot and killed in federal court Monday had tried to prevent the witness whom their client attacked from testifying during the trial.

Siale Angilau — aka "C-Down" — was shot multiple times in the chest by a U.S. marshal after Angilau lunged at a man who was testifying against him on the witness stand inside the new federal courthouse. Angilau later died at a local hospital.

The witness had a "personal bias" against Angilau and "highly suspect" credibility, according to Angilau's attorney, Michael Langford.

The witness, identified by his attorney as Vaiola Mataele Tenifa, 31, is a prison inmate serving up to 30 years for various crimes. Witnesses say he was testifying about the daily activities of Tongan Crip Gang members and giving information such as who their enemies were when Monday's attack occurred.

Tenifa was added as a prosecution witness at the last minute, according to court documents. Because of fears of retaliation, his name was left out of court papers.

The shooting occurred inside Judge Tena Campbell's court on the eighth floor during a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act trial involving TCG members. Angilau was the last of more than a dozen members of that gang to stand trial in the ongoing RICO case.

As the witness testified, Angilau jumped up, may have grabbed a pen or pencil, and went after Tenifa by jumping over the witness stand before he was shot several times, those inside the court said.

In a motion filed April 11 by Langford seeking to prevent Tenifa from testifying, the attorney noted that the government witness had a criminal history dating back to 1999 and was the target of a homicide attempt in a separate case.

"The cooperating witness has an extensive criminal history, a tenuous or third-party relationship to the defendant, a relationship with the Tongan Crip Gangs distinct from Mr. Angilau, and probable personal bias against Mr. Angilau," Langford wrote in court papers. "Mr. Angilau believes, due to the cooperating witness' criminal history and alleged gang affiliation, the government has evidence relating to promises of lenience and prior false statements."

In another court filing on April 17, Angilau's defense attorneys again protested the witness being allowed to testify, calling him a "potentially devastating witness with highly suspect integrity, credibility and firsthand knowledge."

Langford offered a brief statement Tuesday about the shooting, but he declined to talk about what he saw or what happened.

"I defended Siale's constitutional rights for four years. I had an opportunity to spend a lot of time with him. He always treated my defense team and me with the utmost respect. It was a tragic event for everyone involved. My thoughts right now are with Siale's loved ones and everyone else affected by this tragic event," he said.

Tenifa's defense attorney, Steven Killpack, declined to comment Tuesday about the incident, only saying that his client was not injured. Killpack did not say whether Tenifa was actually hit by Angilau.

The Utah State Prison in Draper and the Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison remained locked down Tuesday as Utah Department of Corrections officials attempted to curb any potential retaliation from Monday's events.

As of midday Tuesday, prison officials said some areas had resumed normal operations but visitations remained suspended.

University of Utah law professor Paul Cassell, who served as a federal judge from 2002 to 2007, said hundreds of dangerous criminals go through the federal courthouse every year. But an incident like Monday's is rare.

"It's simply not possible to put into place the full array, 100 percent security measures for each and every defendant," Cassell said. "The marshals end up making some kind of educated risk assessment of what they need to do. And in this case, they obviously had an appropriate response. It's highly unusual for a defendant to challenge a witness in the middle of a proceeding. That's certainly something I've never seen.

"When you look at the priorities that the marshals office has, the fear of someone jumping up in the middle of a courtroom and attacking a witness is pretty low on the list. That hardly ever happens," he said.

Cassell said jurors cannot be swayed by the appearance of a defendant in shackles during trial. The defendant is supposed to have a presumption of innocence. That's why Angilau was unrestrained Monday. Furthermore, there had been other court hearings where the defendant showed no signs of being aggressive.

Cassell said he was involved in a trial several years ago where the defendant, who had a history of successfully escaping multiple times, had leg restraints placed on him. Drapes were then hung at the table where the defendant was sitting so the jury couldn't see them.

"But you can't put those security measures into place for every single case," Cassell said.

Contributing: Peter Samore

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