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State v. Fahina

Court of Appeals of Utah

July 7, 2017

State of Utah, Appellee,
v.
Paula Tuitavuki Fahina, Appellant.

         Third District Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable Vernice S. Trease No. 141912435

          Nathalie S. Skibine and Ralph W. Dellapiana, Attorneys for Appellant

          Sean D. Reyes and Lindsey L. Wheeler, Attorneys for Appellee

          Judge Jill M. Pohlman authored this Opinion, in which Judges J. Frederic Voros Jr. and Michele M. Christiansen concurred.

          OPINION

          POHLMAN, Judge.

         ¶1 Defendant Paula Tuitavuki Fahina appeals his conviction for aggravated assault involving domestic violence, a third degree felony. Fahina argues that the trial court erred in admitting testimony at trial under the excited utterance exception to the hearsay rule. We affirm.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶2 Fahina and Victim met while she was residing at an extended stay hotel in South Salt Lake City. They began a sexual relationship that lasted for about a month and a half, during which time Fahina would stay overnight in Victim's room three or four nights a week. Fahina also kept some of his belongings in Victim's room.

         ¶3 Early one morning, after Victim and Fahina had consensual sex, there was an incident in Victim's room. Following an investigation into that incident, the State charged Fahina with aggravated sexual assault, forcible sodomy, aggravated kidnapping, and aggravated assault involving domestic violence. Fahina pleaded not guilty.

         ¶4 Victim testified at trial that after she had consensual sex with Fahina, they began to argue. She explained that the argument turned violent and Fahina pulled out a twelve-inch-long serrated knife. She said that Fahina twice demanded that she "get on the bed" while he alternated between holding the knife above his head and pointing it at her.

         ¶5 According to Victim, she "got really scared" and complied with Fahina's demand. She said that Fahina told her to get under the covers, but she refused because she was "scared he would start stabbing" her. Fahina told Victim, "If you scream, I'll kill you."

         ¶6 Victim then testified that, with the knife still in hand, Fahina demanded that she perform oral sex on him. Victim initially told Fahina no, but because she was "scared for [her] life, " she did "whatever he wanted [her] to do, " and Fahina "just kept pointing the knife" at her and "would stab it at" her when she tried to stop.

         ¶7 Victim said that she eventually "got the nerve up" to try to escape. She ran to and unlocked the door while screaming, "He's going to kill me." But before Victim could open the door, Fahina, still holding the knife, grabbed Victim and threw her back into the room against the bed's box spring, which broke two of her ribs and punctured her lung. Terrified, Victim got up and again ran to the door. Having previously unlocked it, she was now able to open it. A woman standing outside grabbed Victim's arm and took Victim, who was not dressed, to another room to get some clothes.

         ¶8 Two other residents staying down the hall from Victim testified that on the morning in question, they heard Victim scream, "He's going to kill me." After hearing the scream, one resident went into the hallway to investigate while the other called 911. The resident in the hallway saw Victim run out of her room naked and again heard her yell, "[H]e [is] going to kill me, help me, come help me." He then watched as Victim ducked into another room, after which he saw Fahina run out of Victim's room holding a ten-to-fourteen-inch serrated knife. Fahina ran past the resident to a stairwell marked "Exit."

         ¶9 Upon receiving a call that a naked woman was screaming for help at the hotel, a South Salt Lake City police officer (Officer) responded. Officer testified that he first went to Victim's room but ultimately found her sitting on the curb in front of the hotel's main office "very distraught, " "crying, " and injured. He testified that her hands were shaking and "wouldn't stay still, " ...


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