Prosecution seeks 70 years for second defendant in Bergeron murder
By Joyce McClure
Despite testifying that he “never wanted to be a part of the crime,” Francis Choay Buchun “took extra steps to complete” the process that led to the murder of Yap’s acting attorney general, Rachelle Bergeron, according to Assistant Attorney General Josephine Leben James.
“The crime was premeditated. He provided the means to commit the murder,” James said in her closing arguments. “Buchun provided the firearm and ammunition.”
Chief Justice Cyprian Manmaw presided over the closing arguments which took place virtually on Dec. 29, 2022. The transcript of the court proceedings was obtained by the Pacific Island Times Thursday.
The court is scheduled to render its verdict on Jan. 27 with sentencing to follow at a later date. James is seeking a maximum penalty of 70 years and a fine of $43,900.
Buchun’s co-defendant, Anthony Tun Teteeth, was convicted on Jan. 5 and is awaiting sentencing.
Buchun and Teteeth were each slapped with 19 charges in the murder of Bergeron, who received three fatal shots upon returning home from her afternoon run on Oct. 14, 2019.
James said Buchun “assisted with the transportation to the crime scene, and he assisted with taking the car back to the shooter’s house so the shooter wouldn’t be heard or seen leaving the crime scene.”
James noted that Buchun “went with the shooter to scout out the area for the victim.” Then, he “drove the shooter to the area” where Teteeth subsequently shot Bergeron.
“Francis Choay Buchun claims they only wanted to scare the victim,” said James, a prosecutor with the FSM Department of Justice. “There are a lot of ways to scare a person besides providing a firearm and ammunition. It is foreseeable that someone will be injured or killed if you use a firearm and ammunition.”
The prosecution asked that the defendant be sent to prison in Chuuk.
“This will help the community feel safe that he is not in the same state,” James said. “The defendant has a criminal background, and we are asking for the maximum to deter these kinds of criminal acts for the public interest and to keep the community safe.”
Genevieve M. Mangefel, Buchun’s trial counselor, however, questioned the legality of the process that led to her client’s indictment as well as the veracity of the officers’ testimonies during the trial.
She argued that Buchun was not presented with, nor did he read or sign, a document stating his rights and acknowledging that he understood them.
“None has been presented in this trial,” Mangefel said.
Chief Justice Manmaw asked if it would make a difference if the defendant had made a confession.
Mangefel replied that no such advice was presented by the prosecution during the trial.
She also noted that during their testimonies, the police officers presented conflicting facts about the time of arrest and the time when the search and seizure occurred.
Mangefel said the officers did not indicate the identical time the defendant was arrested and for what he was arrested. “It’s questionable at this point,” she added.
“Search and seizure is usually done in execution of a search warrant, which is based on probable cause,” Mangefel said. “We have not seen any evidence of such presented by the prosecution for such a warrant, nor have we seen a copy of any such warrant.”
As for the weapons charges, Mangefel said “none of the statements or none of the reportings that we’ve listened to, does it pinpoint that the defendant did provide the weapon for such a purpose.”
While the defendant “does readily admit to that,” Mangefel said the weapon “was for hunting purposes.”
Initially, she said, “he did refuse to provide such a weapon, but then he gave in as is usual for people when the other defendant kept harassing him about providing something. He did give in, but it was for purposes of hunting as far as I can tell from the recordings.”
The judge asked, when is possession of a weapon legal in Yap?
“It would not be legal, but there is a difference between providing a weapon for that purpose and just having a weapon,” the defense attorney replied.
“There’s a big difference between just possessing a weapon and using it or using it in the commission of a crime,” she added.
“That’s obvious,” the judge said, “but if it’s illegal, then you can’t have it in the first place.”
Mangefel also called into question the officers’ testimony regarding the three shell casings found at the crime scene.
During the trial, the defense sought the identity of the officer who picked up the shell casings. “No name was ever mentioned as to who was the actual officer,” Mangefel said.
The prosecution disagreed and stated the recorded name.
“But most of all,” Mangefel continued, “we would like to emphasize that even though there was the one incident of questioning that there was no counsel present, this calls into question the validity of such questioning done.”