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Mother on trial for assaulting tot on Alaska-Hawaii flight

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    In this May 22 photo, Samantha Leialoha Watanabe walks outside of federal court in Honolulu.

A Hawaii mother’s federal trial is starting on charges that she smacked, pinched and pulled out the hair of her 15-month-old daughter during a flight from Alaska to Honolulu.

Jury selection starts Wednesday in the trial against Samantha Leialoha Watanabe, who has pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge.

A criminal complaint says she cursed and assaulted the girl during the May 3 flight from Anchorage. The complaint says whenever the girl tried to touch her mother’s face, Watanabe slapped the child’s hands and arms.

Federal public defender Alexander Silvert says his client is homeless and living in a shelter.

Witnesses that prosecutors expect to call include Alaska Airlines flight attendants and an Alaska State Trooper traveling with his family.

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