Man who won't be extradited to Tonga for wife's murder says he's innocent

Murder suspect let go in Hawaii; US fears he can't get fair trial in Tonga
Published: Nov. 2, 2017 at 3:50 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 3, 2017 at 6:49 PM HST
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(image: Hawaii News Now)
(image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The American who was charged with murdering his wife in Tonga but then let go in Honolulu because the State Department decided not to allow his extradition told Hawaii News Now on Friday that it feels "wonderful" to be a free man.

"I didn't kill my wife, that's ridiculous. Unfounded," Fletcher said, as he left the federal courthouse Friday.

"I love my wife with all my heart and soul and it's a tragic accident and there's nothing I regret worse than the death of my wife. I had nothing to do with it."

A U.S. judge in Hawaii ordered Fletcher's release from the Federal Detention Center in Honolulu on Wednesday.

Fletcher and his Canadian wife, Patricia Linne Kearney, were in Tonga living on a sailboat in July 2016 when witnesses said he beat her to death.

In a complaint filed in the case, prosecutors describe a brutal attack, in which Fletcher allegedly repeatedly punched and kicked his wife. Her cause of death was excessive blood loss and an intracranial hemorrhage "as a result of multiple blunt impacts to the head, chest and abdomen."

Fletcher later claimed Kearney died after falling down the stairs.

He fled custody in Tonga on the vessel and was arrested by U.S. Marshals in American Samoa. He was brought to Hawaii in November 2016 and held in custody.

The State Department told Hawaii's District Attorney saying because a murder conviction in Tonga could lead to the death penalty, and it was unlikely Fletcher could afford an attorney, he may not receive a fair trial. Tonga does not provide attorneys for defendants who cannot afford one.

"There's absolutely no court in this country that would allow a citizen to be facing a trial, a death penalty potential case, without any legal representation. Even more so, in a country where he does not speak the language and is certainly not familiar with the criminal justice system. So I believe that's a fair and just outcome," said federal defender Melinda Yamaga, who was assigned to Fletcher's case.

So far there is no indication Fletcher will face any new charges in this country. Experts say that is unlikely.

When asked about the witnesses who claimed they saw him beating his wife, Fletcher replied, "It's all fabricated, lies. It's all lies."

Tonga Acting Attorney General Aminiasi Kefu told the AP he's disappointed in the decision. He says it's unlikely the death penalty would have been imposed, and no one in Tonga receives free legal representation.

He also says that Tonga's judicial system is fair.

In a statement to Hawaii News Now, a State Department official said that "considering the unique facts of this case ... the Secretary determined that Fletcher could not be guaranteed a fair trial in Tonga."

The official added, "If convicted of the most serious charge, Fletcher would have faced a mandatory penalty of death or life imprisonment under Tongan law. Fletcher was provided with free legal representation during his U.S. extradition proceedings due to his lack of funds.

"The Department determined, among other things, that Tonga does not have a federal public defender system, that neither NGOs nor other private-funded sources reliably provide legal representation of indigent defendants, and that there have consequently been cases of fugitives facing serious charges without counsel."

State Senator Will Espero expressed his concerns about the matter in a letter addressed to Attorney General Doug Chin.

"I and many residents of Hawaii are aghast at the idea of an alleged murderer being released in Hawaii...the U.S. State Department has refused to extradite Fletcher due to concerns he would not receive a fair trial. I would like to offer a solution that could help bring justice to this situation," Espero stated.

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