Covid-triggered travel ban derails Yap murder case proceedings

Rachelle Bergeron-Hammerling

Rachelle Bergeron-Hammerling

Colonia, Yap — Travel restrictions in the Federated States of Micronesia have hampered court proceedings for the suspects in the murder of Yap’s prosecutor last year.

The murder of acting Attorney General Rachelle Bergeron-Hammerling on Oct. 14, 2019 shocked the small island and reverberated around the world.

Two suspects, Anthony Rutun Teteeth and Francis Choay Buchun, were arrested after an investigation that included the Yap State Police, FSM National Police and the FBI.

They are facing murder charges before the state court, and separately, illegal weapons charges before the national court.

Since then their cases have been moving through the court system but the onset of the pandemic and the closing of FSM’s borders has slowed the process nearly to a stop.

The defense attorneys, the state and federal prosecutors and the FSM Supreme Court judge are all based in Pohnpei and Chuuk with no swift way to get to Yap.

Pretrial hearings in both courts were held in the months leading up to President David Panuelo’s public health emergency declaration that closed the borders to travel through Guam when Covid-19 hit that island.