April 01, 2009

The Associate Press

NEOSHO, Mo. (AP) - In the tight-knit Micronesian community of southwest Missouri, shame and honor are more than just abstract concepts. Shame drove Eiken Elam Saimon to kill three religious leaders, including two relatives, Saimon said Friday. Honor cost one of those victims his life.

Saimon, 54, pleaded guilty Friday to three counts of first-degree murder and four counts of first-degree assault in the Aug. 12, 2007, attack on First Congregational Church in the town of Neosho. Three people died and four were wounded during the Sunday afternoon service, which was being held by a group of South Pacific immigrants from Micronesia who rented church space to worship in their native language of Pingelapese.

Saimon also pleaded guilty to charges of statutory rape and statutory sodomy for a sexual assault on a 14-year-old girl two days before the church shootings.

Under the deal with Newton County prosecutors, Saimon received three life sentences without parole, plus four 30-year sentences for the assaults and two seven-year sentences for the sex offenses.

The sentences will run consecutively, meaning Saimon will spend the rest of his life behind bars.

In brief testimony Friday morning, Saimon described how an incident at a community barbecue the week before led him to enter the church with two handguns. After releasing the congregation's children, he briefly held 50 worshippers hostage before surrendering to police.

"I did not have any food to bring to the barbecue and my relatives started giving me a hard time ... and saying that I was stealing food for my children," Saimon said. "I went home and thought about how they were all talking bad about me and how much I had helped all of them when they first came to the United States."

"I knew they would all be at church on Sunday afternoon," he added. "I was still really mad, but I knew what I was doing."

Kernal Rehobson, 43, the son of Saimon's cousin, approached the shooter and tried to calm him down. Instead, he was shot dead at close range.

"You are a greedy, jealous man," grieving widow Lovihna Rehobson told Saimon as she delivered a victim impact statement in court. "My husband helped you with money, food, anything you needed. ... I am so glad you are going to rot in hell."

Saimon also killed Intenson Rehobson, 44, uncle of the first man shot, and family friend Kuhpes Jesse Ikosia, 53. Two days before the church shooting, he raped a 14-year-old family friend while she cleaned his bedroom.

About 600 native Pacific Islanders have settled in the far corner of the state where Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri converge. Many were attracted by jobs at poultry plants and other factories.

Each of the victims was a pastor or associate pastor at the Micronesian congregation.

"Kernal was a leader in this community," said Newton County prosecutor Jacob Skouby. "He bravely stepped up and told this man to calm down, and instead he was shot. He put himself between Saimon and the rest of the people."

Saimon said he expected to be shot by police. He apologized for the murders and acknowledged the pain his actions caused.

"What I did ruined many people's lives and it ruined my life too," he testified.

Saimon was scheduled to go on trial in June, and Skouby had previously filed court papers indicating his intent to seek the death penalty. But the plea emerged after some victims' family members said they wanted to avoid a trial, the prosecutor said. Others told Skouby that the death penalty isn't accepted in their culture.