LIHUE — During a powerful and oftentimes emotional victim’s impact statement in Fifth Circuit Court Wednesday, the mother of an 8-year-old sexual-assault victim said her family’s lives were changed forever when a man broke into their Puhi home and attacked her daughter as she slept in her bed.
That man, Samson Harong, 25, from Yap, a part of the Federated States of Micronesia, was sentenced in Fifth Circuit Court to 20 years in prison Wednesday on a sexual-assault charge, and will be facing deportation once his time is served.
During her career of at least 13 years sentencing people, Judge Kathleen Watanabe told Harong this was one of the most egregious, reprehensible and bothersome crimes she’s ever presided over.
The age of the victim, the circumstances in which Harong violently assaulted the victim, the violation, the trauma and the long-lasting effects of the crime on the victim are issues Watanabe said she hopes he doesn’t forget.
“If you did not hear the mother’s words clearly Mr. Harong, then let me just tell you again. This is a young child that you badly hurt that will suffer and continues to suffer for a very, very long time just because of your selfish and senseless actions, and I truly hope that this is going to haunt you for the rest of your days,” Watanabe said.
Harong was initially arrested and questioned in connection to this case on May 18, 2017, at which time Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar said Harong partially admitted to the assault.
After his release but knowing he was still under investigation for this crime, Harong fled to California where he was later detained with the assistance of the U.S. Marshals Service on Dec. 4, 2017, in Tehama County, and extradited back to Kauai.
Standing before the court to speak on her now-9-year-old daughter’s behalf, the victim’s mother told the story of how her daughter suffered and continues to suffer because of the assault.
“My daughter deserves justice, but to be honest, even this isn’t enough. Nothing will ever be enough to restore her life and our lives as a family prior to May 1, 2017,” she said.
In her statement, the victim’s mother said it was just after 11 on the night of the attack that her daughter came into her parents bedroom and with a shrill, panicked voice told her parents there was a man in her room harassing her.
Since then, their entire family has suffered, but her daughter — who was so young, so sweet and so innocent — has suffered the most, the mother said.
“The worst possible thing that could happen to a child had occurred,” she said.
Directly following the assault, the family was forced to move because they couldn’t go back to their house. They were displaced for a month. Eventually, the victim’s mom had to leave her job in order to address her daughter’s and family’s trauma, she said.
“The perpetrator violated our safety, our comfort and our security in our home,” she said.
Harong’s arrest was a milestone in the case, she said, but the burden of proof was now on her daughter, who did not have the vocabulary to discuss what happened to her and the impact it had.
“We were facing a possible trial in which a child’s words would be matched against an adult,” she said.
And that’s why the case didn’t go to trial, Kollar said in an interview with The Garden Island.
“We don’t like to put 8-year-olds on the witness stand to testify. That could be a very traumatic experience for them, and the victim in this case has been through enough trauma,” he said.
On behalf of Harong, attorney Emmanuel Guerrero asked the court to impose the sentence mandatory by law, stating his client takes full responsibility for what happened that night.
“He admitted to the charges in terms of the agreement in a timely matter and he has expressed to me his remorse of what he had done and that it should never have happened,” he said. “He might not tell you, but alcohol was involved to the point that for the last few months his body is now clean from alcohol,” he said.
Guerrero said his client has been drinking since he was in the sixth grade.
“That is no excuse, but he did tell me for the first time he is free from any alcohol in his system and he has a new outlook on his life. He knows what he did was wrong. He knows that he harmed a lot of people,” he said.
His client hopes that someday he’ll be able to make amends in any way, shape or forms he can, Guerrero said.
“By him taking responsibility in this case, he hopes it’s a good start,” he said.
Through a Yapese interpreter, Harong apologized for the assault.
“I’m sorry to the family. I’m sorry that happened,” he said.
During the proceedings, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Keola Siu said the remarks regarding alcohol were troubling.
“Usually, consequences as a result of alcohol abusers manifest with a DUI or getting into a fight or things of that nature, but the crime that he perpetrated was not something that a person who is abusing alcohol normally does. It took a lot more planning,” he said.
This case, Siu said, could have easily gone unsolved, especially since the victim was only 8 years old and the only witness.
“I watched the body one camera from this case and she was completely disturbed. Fortunately, it was a patrol officer there who also has children so he was able to get down on her level and able to get a description from her,” he said.
Based on that description, the patrol officer was able to go out, canvass the neighborhood, and spoke with people who encountered Harong as he was running from the house, Siu said.
Interrupting Siu, Guerrero said Siu’s statements were improper and a violation of the agreement before the court, and asked that they be stricken from the record.
“Mr. Harong took full responsibility to put a closure to this case and so that everyone can move forward including himself, but more importantly the individuals harmed by this conduct in this case,” he said.
Watanabe declined to strike anything from the record.
Harong was initially charged with sexual assault in the first degree and burglary, but the state dropped the burglary charge as part of the plea agreement. If the case had gone to trial, Kollar said it is likely Harong would have been sentenced to 20 years if convicted.
Since the incident, the victim and the victim’s family have been receiving extensive therapeutic services for trauma associated with this crime.
At the time of the assault, Kollar said Harong lived in Puhi and was able to break into the victim’s home through their locked doors.
Kollar said he was pleased with the outcome.
The case was investigated by Kauai Police Department Officer Kris Breyer and Detective Darren Rose.
In her victim’s impact statement, the victim’s mother asked for the maximum sentence possible, and deportation.
“She deserves to know that he is not free to hurt her or anyone else again,” she said. “My daughter has already been robbed of something that is most definitely irreplaceable. Her feelings of safety have been violated as well as her physical body. Her innocence and her paradigm’s forever changed.”
Bethany Freudenthal, Crime, courts and county reporter, can be reached at 652-7891 or firstname.lastname@example.org.