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Alaska to Hawaii

Mother convicted of assaulting her toddler daughter on board plane

A flight attendant testified that he saw passengers ‘treat luggage better’.

A HAWAII MOTHER was convicted today of assaulting her 15-month-old daughter during a May flight from Anchorage, Alaska to Honolulu.

Samantha Leialoha Watanabe’s defence was that she didn’t do anything beyond permissible parental discipline during a long flight with a fussy toddler.

Prosecutors alleged she was unreasonably rough with the generally well-behaved girl by smacking her in head, hitting her in the face with a stuffed doll and yanking out tufts of her hair.

The jury reached its verdict after deliberating about four hours, starting yesterday afternoon.

An investigator with the federal public defender’s office put her arm around Watanabe when the verdict was announced.

A flight attendant testified that he saw passengers treat luggage better than how Watanabe treated her child, Assistant US Attorney Marc Wallenstein reminded jurors in his closing arguments.

“She’s a little girl, and she’s why we’re all here today,” Wallenstein said.

He declined to comment after the verdict.

Defence attorney Alexander Silvert said only two words immediately after the verdict was read: “Extremely disappointed.”

During the trial, he argued the allegations were fabricated by judgmental passengers who didn’t like how Watanabe looked and dressed her child.

The girl was wearing a Playboy bunny pendant— considered a symbol of pornography to a passenger but simply a bunny to a child, Silvert said last week.


The toddler didn’t have any bruises or marks on her body and there was no bleeding, redness or other signs that hair was pulled out, Silvert said.

Watanabe, who is five months pregnant with her seventh child, declined comment as she walked out of the courthouse.

She faces up to a year in jail when she’s sentenced on 15 March.

“That’s something for the court to consider,” Silvert said about how Watanabe’s pregnancy could affect her sentence.

Jurors had to unanimously agree on at least one act of striking that Watanabe committed. Through the courtroom manager, all 10 women and two men on the jury declined to comment, so it’s not known which act they agreed upon.

Silvert said defence lawyers plan to file a motion to vacate the verdict and dismiss the charge, based on Wallenstein’s closing argument that jurors could consider the pinching and hair-pulling as crimes to find her guilty of. Pinching and hair pulling can’t be considered striking acts, Silvert said.

If the motion isn’t successful, Silvert said the defence will appeal.

Read: Man in ‘agitated’ state arrested at Cork Airport >

Read: Woman was seriously assaulted in Temple Bar – but left scene before gardaí arrived >

Associated Foreign Press
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