By BATHOLOMEW MADUKWE & MICHAEL NWOPOKE,
The Court of Appeal sitting in Lagos, yesterday, affirmed the death sentence passed on the General Overseer of the Christian Praying Assembly, Rev. Chukwuemeka Ezeugo, a.k.a Reverend King by Justice Joseph Oyewole of the Lagos State High Court.
’’I hereby rule that the prosecution effectively discharged the burden of proof on it. This appeal is devoid of any basis and accordingly fails.
The judgment of the High Court is hereby affirmed, and the conviction imposed on the appellant, (which is death by hanging) is also affirmed,” Justice Fatimo Akinbami who read the judgement held. The two other members of the panel of Justices, Amina Augie and Ibrahim Saulawa concurred with the lead judgement.
Ezeugo was sentenced to death by the Lagos State High Court, Ikeja, on January 11, 2007 for the murder of one of his church members, Ann Uzoh.
Ezeugo was arraigned on September 26, 2006 on a six-count charge of attempted murder and murder but he pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
The prosecutor had said that the convict poured petrol on the deceased and five other persons and that Uzoh died on August 2, 2006; 11 days after the act was perpetrated on her.
Counsel to Ezeugo had filed a notice of appeal on January 16, 2007, containing 16 grounds of appeal against the judgment.
On June 10, 2008, the Court of Appeal granted him leave to argue the additional 16 grounds of appeal through an amended notice of appeal filed on June 15, 2008.
Rev. King’s Counsel, Mr Olalekan Ojo however criticised yesterday’s judgement, saying that his client will appeal the decision at the Supreme Court, as according to him, the judgment did not meet the expectation of the appellant.
In a unanimous judgement read by Justice Akinbami, the Appeal Court dismissed the appellant’s claim that the case of the prosecution was clustered with doubt and held that all the issues raised by the appellant failed, and resolved same in favour of the prosecution.
On the issue of dying declaration by Miss Uzoh, the Justice Akinbami said that there must be the belief in the danger of approaching death, and this belief is subjective rather objective and upheld the view of the lower court and held that the declaration of the deceased cannot be admitted as a dying declaration, since there was no immediate apprehension or fear of approaching death.
On the defence of alibi raised by appellant counsel, Justice Akinbami ruled that the evidences adduced by prosecution witness (Pw) 1, 2, 3, 4, 9 and 10, clearly pinned the appellant to the scene of the crime.
She said, “The import of alibi is to show that the accused was elsewhere other than the purported place of crime. It is the duty of prosecution to investigate such claims,” adding that “in the case of State vs Fatai Azeez, the evidence of the prosecution witnesses linked the appellant to the scene of the offence”.
According to Justice Akinbami, “even the evidence of a tainted witness is admissible once it is material to the case. A tainted witness is one who may not be an accomplice, but whose evidence may be admissible without the necessity of administering any special warning.
The prosecution witness in this case is an eye witness and so the evidence is material to the case”.
Justice Akinbami further held that all evidence adduced by the prosecution witnesses, were unanimous, saying that they all pointed to the fact that the appellant actually used matches and petrol to set the deceased ablaze.
“Each of the prosecution witness gave evidence as to how the victim was beaten and burnt by the appellant. To my mind, there is no contradiction whatsoever and even if there were, it is immaterial, since all the witnesses are unanimous”.
On the style used by the lower court in arriving at its judgement, the appelate court said the trial judge was at liberty to write his judgment in his own style, provided he/she set out the issue for determination, thus showing a clear understanding of the facts as stated.
While pointing out that the evidence adduced especially by Pw 6, who performed the post mortem examination, revealing that the deceased died as a result of loss of fluid arising from the burning, Justice Akinbami said that the evidence of Pw 5, 8, 6 and 7, (doctors) all showed that the deceased died as a result of the burns.
The judge stressed that the evidence of pw 2, who was the Investigating Police Officer, IPO, also revealed the items used in carrying out the dastardly act on the victim pointing out that the burden of proof in a criminal trial lied on the prosecution, and this was done beyond reasonable doubt.
“Proof does not mean proof beyond scientific certainty or beyond any shadow of doubt, but only beyond reasonable doubt,’’ the Judge added.
Condemning the attitude of some pastors towards their congregation, the judge said that the circumstance surrounding the death of the deceased was so bizarre, adding: “the ingredient of this case is so bizarre.
It is so devastating how some men of God will give out to their congregation, scorpion instead of fish, and stone instead of bread.It is indeed sad and unfortunate”.
However, Director of Public Prosecution, DPP, Mrs. Olabisi Odugbesan, said there was no miscarriage of justice and that all the grounds for the appeal were misconstrued. “We are very pleased that justice has been done today.
We know that the judgment will serve as deterrent to future and incident of this nature by church leaders that abuse and exploit their followers.”