SALT LAKE CITY — Vilisoni Tuino Angilau could be released from prison in as little as three years, but his small daughter will do a lot of growing up while he's away.
Held in her aunt's arms, the curly-haired 2-year-old watched as her father was led from the courtroom Friday. Angilau turned toward his family and told them he loved them as he approached the door.
"Bye, Daddy," the little girl replied.
Angilau, 22, pleaded guilty last summer to reduced charges of manslaughter and discharge of a firearm causing bodily injury, both second-degree felonies, in the gang-related shooting death of 19-year-old Sione Fakatoufifita on April 13, 2013. He was initially charged with murder, a first-degree felony, and obstructing justice, a second-degree felony.
Fakatoufifita, a member of the Baby Regulator gang, was shot and killed in the parking lot outside a Salt Lake convenience store. A member of the rival Tongan Crip Gang, Angilau shot Fakatoufifita at close range and fled, tossing the gun and a sweatshirt he was wearing into the Jordan River.
"The only way I can describe it is an ambush," prosecutor Vince Meister said Friday.
Angilau was sentenced to one to 15 years in prison for the manslaughter charge and three to 15 years for the weapons charge. In light of his young age and wide family support, Judge Katie Bernards-Goodman ruled that the two terms may be served concurrently.
The judge noted the number of letters she had received before the sentencing, many of them on behalf of Angilau's daughter.
"But this is a very violent act, and not your first violent act," she said.
Angilau, shackled, shrugged as Bernards-Goodman asked him what he wanted to say before being sentenced.
"It's really up to you, today isn't going to change anything," he said, noting as Fakatoufifita's family had that no decision by the court would bring the young man back. "I'm going to do my time. I plan on changing my life for my daughter.
"All I have to say to the family is I'm sorry," Angilau said. "I really am sorry."
Tupou Fakatoufifita, the mother of Sione Fakatoufifita, began to sob as she addressed Bernards-Goodman. She spoke softly as she told the judge that she has forgiven the man who killed her son, and now wants only to move on.
"Sione is gone, there is nothing anyone can say or do to bring him back. Just enable us to close this chapter in our life," the mother asked. "I know how (Angilau) feels, I don't have any ill feelings toward him."
The day her son died was the saddest of her life, Tupou Fakatoufifita said.
"Sione was not perfect himself, but I taught him well. Kids tend to do whatever they want to do," she said. "We miss Sione so much, at home, wherever we go."
The Fakatoufifita family hopes now to find comfort in seeing the case closed, said Angela Samani, Sione Fakatoufifita's aunt.
"I guess we'll just move on as a family and support one another, especially his parents. He was their only child. They have just been waiting to have this day over with," Samani said.
Twenty years old a the time of the shooting, Angilau was no stranger to the damaging consequences that come through gang involvement, his attorney told the judge.
"Mr. Angilau can appreciate this. He has a number of friends and family who have been killed through gang violence," said Angilau's attorney, Edwin Wall.
Angilau's older brother, Siale Angilau, was shot to death by an unidentified U.S. marshal in a Salt Lake federal courtroom when he picked up a pen and lunged at a testifying witness April 21, 2014. He was in court on gang-related racketeering charges.
In the wake of the shooting, Vilisoni Angilau pleaded guilty. Two months later he asked to withdraw the plea, saying he had been grief-stricken over his brother's death and caved under pressure from prosecutors.
"I felt rushed and pressured into taking the deal. I was not in the right state of mind and worried about being falsely convicted of the higher charges," Vilisoni Angilau wrote in a letter to the judge.
Vilisoni Angilau later abandoned the effort.
Though both families wept as the hearing concluded Friday and Vilisoni Angilau was led away, the man's relatives hope that, with their support, he will follow through with his promise to leave gang life behind.
"With the support of family and support of your loved ones it encourages you to change," said Deanne Tuakalau, a cousin to the Angilau brothers. "He knows that he's done wrong and he knows that he has to pay for it. I'm happy he gained responsibility."
Last year Tuakalau founded the "Raise Your Pen Coalition," named in part for the pen that Siale Angilau had in his hand when he died, to encourage Polynesian youths to make choices that take them away from violent gang life they may have been told is their inevitable future.
Siale Angilau would have turned 27 on Friday, a coincidence that brought Tuakalau hope rather than grief.
"I feel like Vilisoni is a prime example of what we're trying to show," Tuakalau said. "I just feel like everything is going to be OK, everything is going to turn out as it's supposed to be, just like it turned out in court. I just hope we can try to help the younger generation, because they're the ones who really need help."
Tuakalau also shared her family's concern for Sione Fakatoufifita's parents and relatives.
"I hope they are able to mourn and they're OK," she said. "We're hurting, but they're hurting the most."
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