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Pacific Cruiser Murder Saga

Soon after Fletcher was finally apprehended by authorities and brought ashore, he laid down on a bench and took a nap — undoubtedly exhausted by his ordeal during the previous week. 

© 2016 Tauva Esera / KHJ News

Following a bizarre sequence of recent events, American cruiser Dean Jay Fletcher currently awaits extradition from American Samoa to Tonga, where he is accused of murdering his Canadian wife Patricia Linne Kearney. 

Having set sail from Mazatlan for the South Pacific in late spring of 2015 aboard their vintage Rhodes Bounty 42 Sea Oak, the couple reportedly arrived in the Kingdom of Tonga in May of this year. On July 7, while the Canadian-flagged boat lay at anchor in Neiafu, the capital of Tonga’s Vava’u archipelago, Fletcher reported the death of his wife to local authorities — although virtually no details on the nature of her death have been made public. A few days later, however, Fletcher was taken into custody and was charged with murder. No doubt this was very big news in the multi-island nation, as Tonga has one of the lowest murder rates in the world.

Somehow Fletcher managed to escape capture, get to his boat and sail away. According to multiple news sources, once his escape was discovered, Tongan Police Search and Rescue assets chased after him. Rather than surrender, however, Fletcher fired several rounds from his flare gun and allegedly threatened to ignite the pursuing patrol boats, which caused the officers aboard to give up the chase. 

Fletcher might have succeeded in his getaway attempt if he hadn’t been in need of fuel. On Tuesday morning Sea Oak pulled into Pago Pago, American Samoa — roughly 330 miles northeast of Vava’u — to fuel up, but the fuel dock was not operating on that day, as a tanker was in port. Sea Oak departed, but before she got far out to sea, authorities caught up with her and apprehended Fletcher without further incident. 

It was initially reported that American Samoa has no extradition treaty with Tonga, but that was incorrect. A 1977 extradition treaty between Tonga and the US does apply to American Samoa, which, of course, is an American territory. According to South Pacific sources, once returned to Tonga, Fletcher will be charged with murder or manslaughter, plus interference with the course of justice, and two counts of escaping from custody.

Meanwhile, acquaintances of Fletcher and Kearney in Mexico are understandably shocked by this remarkable sequence of events. "They were quiet but friendly folks who kept mostly to themselves as they were busy prepping for the voyage," said a friend in Mazatlan who wished to remain anonymous. "I personally can’t imagine him killing her; they seemed to be a tight couple."

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