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Defense to appeal guilty verdict of Hawaii mom who assaulted child on plane

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    Samantha Leialoha Watanabe, 37, walked outside of federal court in Honolulu on May 22.

A Hawaii mother was convicted today of assaulting her 15-month-old daughter during a May flight from Anchorage, Alaska to Honolulu.

Samantha Leialoha Watanabe’s defense was that she didn’t do anything beyond permissible parental discipline during a long flight with a fussy toddler. Prosecutors alleged she was unreasonably rough with the generally well-behaved girl by smacking her in head, hitting her in the face with a stuffed doll and yanking out tufts of her hair.

The jury reached its verdict after deliberating about four hours, starting Monday afternoon.

An investigator with the federal public defender’s office put her arm around Watanabe when the verdict was announced.

A flight attendant testified that he saw passengers treat luggage better than how Watanabe treated her child, Assistant U.S. Attorney Marc Wallenstein reminded jurors in his closing arguments on Monday.

“She’s a little girl, and she’s why we’re all here today,” Wallenstein said.

He declined to comment after the verdict.

Defense attorney Alexander Silvert said only two words immediately after the verdict was read: “Extremely disappointed.” During the trial, he argued the allegations were fabricated by judgmental passengers who didn’t like how Watanabe looked and dressed her child. The girl was wearing a Playboy bunny pendant— considered a symbol of pornography to a passenger but simply a bunny to a child, Silvert said last week.

The toddler didn’t have any bruises or marks on her body and there was no bleeding, redness or other signs that hair was pulled out, Silvert said.

Watanabe, who is five months pregnant with her seventh child, declined comment as she walked out of the courthouse. She faces up to a year in jail when she’s sentenced on March 15.

“That’s something for the court to consider,” Silvert said about how Watanabe’s pregnancy could affect her sentence.

Jurors had to unanimously agree on at least one act of striking that Watanabe committed. Through the courtroom manager, all 10 women and two men on the jury declined to comment, so it’s not known which act they agreed upon.

Silvert said defense attorneys plan to file a motion to vacate the verdict and dismiss the charge, based on Wallenstein’s closing argument that jurors could consider the pinching and hair pulling as crimes to find her guilty of. Pinching and hair pulling can’t be considered striking acts, Silvert said.

If the motion isn’t successful, Silvert said the defense will appeal.

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  • Good job to the jury. First right thing in hawaii nei. Lock her up and throw away the key. She looks like someone that would not want to mess with. Drug out.

    • Justice is “supposed” to be blind. In other words, her looks should not influence the jurors either way. Evidence presented should be used to decide the verdict.

      • @ kiragirl – “In other words, her looks should not influence the jurors either way.”

        Then why do defendants get all dressed nice and groomed during a trial? That’s the THEORY vs. REALITY.

        • Because they know jurors can be influenced by how they dress and look. Justice is based upon the evidence presented but yes, there could be jurors like you that would vote based on the way the defendant is dressed and that would be an injustice.

        • @Kiragirl…don’t forget to fix her teeth, remove her tattoo’s, and teach her to talk the King’s English.

        • Masami, you just don’t get it or don’t want to admit it that justice is served when jurors do not use their prejudice in rendering their verdict.

        • I get it. I agree with you. It shouldn’t matter….but we BOTH KNOW….it does.

          Not trying to get into a peeing match. Happy Holidays!

      • Ideally, jurors should decide their verdict only on the evidence presented.

        But in reality, you can have mounds of clear evidence for “Guilty” and still end up with an “Innocent” verdict or one of a lesser charge. Having been on a jury, I’ve seen that savvy lawyers are quite adept at manipulating truths, and things like appearance, personal opinions/attitudes/biases, etc. influence jurors too.

  • What I take away from this story is that we need to watch over the vulnerable people around us — a stranger or a neighbor — be it a child or an elderly person or anyone else who could be taken advantage of by some monster. What if the other passengers on the plane hadn’t paid attention or thought it was none of their business? Let’s just keep watching out for each other.

  • I would love to know more about this story. After a quick web search, I found articles (most from this paper) stating that the woman was living in a homeless shelter in Alaska. Is she Hawaiian? Is the child still in her custody?

    • Might be a good idea to send her back. Hawaii is struggling as it is to take care of her OWN, growing, homeless population.

      Not to be unwelcoming, but, Auwe!, right now we just can’t afford to have homeless people from the OTHER States flying IN to Hawaii and causing a homeless population explosion!

  • My question is this: Just HOW much meth do you have to be on to wanna’ hit THAT & get it knocked up?? (I’d rather claw my eyes out with brass wire brushes than see it naked. Eeeewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.)

  • “Watanabe, who is five months pregnant with her seventh child….” Seriously???? Does this POS have a job, or is she a welfare cow? Who (what) on earth keeps knocking this thing up?

  • I believe the witnesses that saw the abuse; it wouldn’t be “normal” for most people to except what was described happened to the toddler!! If our justice system allows this kind of criminal behavior to go unpunished, our country is failing all of us!!

    • Your comments are with prejudice. “Saw the abuse” instead of incident. This kind of “criminal” behavior? The witnesses should be applauded for stepping forward but to have them be judge and jury is wrong. They claim that the child was being abused yet there were no physical evidence.

      • the witnesses who saw the assault on the little defenseless child did not act as judge as jury.

        they testified in court and described the assault on the child.

        it was the judge and jury that acted as if they were judge and jury.

        the article mistakenly states that the jury had to believe that the child was struck in order to issue a verdict of guilty.

        all that’s required to be in violation of h.r.s. section 707-712 is that the person “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes bodily injury to another person.”

        in h.r.s. section 707-700 “bodily injury” means physical pain, illness, or any impairment of physical condition.

  • Does this women have all of her children? That is something that needs to be consider. She is going to have #7. More welfare and WICK. Taxpayers to pay for her children. Lock up up in jail.

  • Glad to learn that she was found guilty. I was outraged to read an earlier article which revealed she had three other children removed from her home because of neglect and abuse. She is in court for this baby and is pregnant. Good grief. I find this outrageous – mainly because one can see in the photo she doesn’t take care of her health. You can see she has no upper front teeth and with poor health and being pregnant planning for a healthy baby doesn’t happen. Additionally, I was outraged that the jury couldn’t know that her previous kids had been removed from the house. That law is ridiculous. How in the dickens are we as a society suppose to make decent decisions for helpless

    So, I wonder if she is a welfare mom or just what her modus operandi is. Additionally, this is an individual for whom I would make a court order for her to check in and get treatment and guidance in order to have a healthy baby. After that, I would offer her a free tubal ligation or birth control pills forever. This person’s selfishness or lack of awareness is so unfair to the children she has.

  • Finally! Justice for a defenseless child! What’s happening to our world? Even a year in jail is still too lenient compared to the daily(!)horrific physical, emotional & psychological abuse that many children suffer Regularly, in their Own Homes at the hands of “people” who are Supposed To be lovingly CARING for them!! As a recent incident involving a soldier & his wife; where Oahu’s misguided jury awarded a mere life in prison; after they had stomped(!)their preschool daughter to death; after inflicting months of daily unimaginable torture & abuse upon her. Very sadly, juries allow these monster parents/family/legal guardians to actually get away with sadistically murdering their children with only a “slap-on-the-wrist” punishment. In a perfect world — Since these abusers can’t empathize with their children’s pain, perhaps their punishment should also include being treated by the jailers in the same way they treated their children. I realize that “2 Wrongs don’t make a Right,” but perhaps this is the only “language” these abusers are able to understand. (THEY assume “MIGHT is Right”.) THEY should have their OWN hair yanked out in tufts. Be pulled up by their head hair. (I saw a man do this to his son at Ala Moana once.) Be thrown against the wall. Burned with cigarette butts. Have arms, legs scalded with hot water. Be smacked/slapped around a lot, hard,IN THE HEAD. Be ridiculed or shouted at with the “F” word. Be denied food & bathroom breaks for long periods. Be ignored. Have human love & acceptance withheld. Day after day. With no way to escape. (Just like their poor children.) And in a perfect world – Sterilization might also be an option for the courts. Child abusers should be PROHIBITED from Procreating. It would save SO many sweet, innocent children from needless, horrific torture & suffering. And besides…these Monsters don’t DESERVE the beautiful, priceless GIFT of having & raising children!

  • And who do you suppose it paying for all of her legal support? You and me baby. She can fly from Alaska to Hawaii but can not afford to hire a lawyer to defend herself. And now a public defender is going to appeal a verdict that a jury rendered in just four hours!

  • The defense attorney is pretty much of a slug. Pinching and pulling hair doesn’t count? Let me pinch him and pull his hair. I bet it would count then.

    • silvert is just doing what a good defense lawyer would. and his statement “that pinching and hair pulling can’t be considered striking acts” is self-servingly correct.

      however, his appeal to the media to vacate the judgement of the jury neglects to include that during the flight the mother struck the child in the head and face.

      all that’s required to be in violation of h.r.s. section 707-712 is that the person “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes bodily injury to another person.”

      in h.r.s. section 707-700 “bodily injury” means physical pain, illness, or any impairment of physical condition.

      thus, by pinching and pulling the little child’s hair out and causing the child physical pain, even if you put aside the mother striking the child in the head and in the face, the mother is guilty of assault.

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