COLONIA, Yap — Motions have been filed by the State of Yap, as plaintiff, to delay the trials of the two defendants in the murder of Yap's former acting attorney general, Rachelle Bergeron-Hammerling, until August 2021 after several prior hearing and trial dates were rescheduled or cancelled.
Legal proceedings have been slow due to the closing of the FSM’s border on Jan. 31, 2020 when the pandemic hit.
The slaying of Bergeron-Hammerling, 33, an American citizen, occurred on Oct. 14, 2019 outside her house near Colonia, the island’s only town.
The state’s 19 counts against the two defendants include charges of murder, manslaughter and firearms possession. Both defendants have entered pleas of not guilty and will be tried separately in bench trials.
When the defendant Anthony Tun did not respond to the motion, presiding Judge Jonathan M. Tun set the trial date for Aug. 6 at 1 p.m.
The other defendant, Francis Choay Buchun, is noted in the Order for Continuance issued by presiding Judge Cyprian J. Manmaw as not opposing the motion to postpone his trial until Aug. 13. However, the request was denied by the court which stated, “The court needs to hold a hearing on when a trial date is appropriate because of the pandemic, defendant’s right to speedy trial and other issues on which the court needs to hear the parties. The court will set a date and time for the hearing.” That date has not yet been set as of this writing.
Concurrently, the FSM Supreme Court has been proceeding slowly with its case against the two defendants for weapons and ammunition possession. Associate Justice Larry Wentworth also postponed those trials until July, tentatively, based on the opening of the nation’s borders at some yet-to-be-announced time in the future.
Wentworth has used Zoom in the courtroom to conference in all of the participants during hearings, but the connection is not reliable or optimal.
Legal counsels for both the prosecution and defense, and witnesses from the FSM National Police and Yap State Police who participated in the investigation, arrests and interrogations, are based in Chuuk, Pohnpei and Yap. Other potential witnesses include FBI agents who traveled to Yap to provide support for the police immediately after the incident and are based outside the country.
According to the emergency declaration issued by FSM President David Panuelo to prevent Covid-19 from entering the country, interstate travel between the four island states is permitted since they are all Covid-free. But the legal proceedings have been delayed until the border opens to allow witnesses from outside the country to be present at the trials.
The emergency declaration, which expires on May 31, has been extended every three months since its inception and may be extended again by the president and the FSM Congress.