BY ONOZURE DANIA
LAGOS—Justice Ebenezer Adebajo of a Lagos High Court at Igbosere, has discharged and acquitted the six persons that were accused of killing Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, bigwig in Lagos State, Funsho Williams. After eight years of trial, they walked away from court as free men.
Bulama Kolo, Musa Maina, David Cassidy, Tunani Sonoma, Mustapha Kayode and Ikponmwose Imariabie regained their freedom, after Justice Adebajo, held that the evidence adduced by the prosecution to prove the two-count charge of conspiracy and murder against them was “weak and superficial they amount to speculation when given consideration.”
The Judge, further stated that there is nothing cogent and compelling to show that any combination of the defendants had acted in furtherance of a crime.
“It is noteworthy to state that the Chief Medical Pathologist of the state in his evidence stated clearly that the deceased was killed by strangulation, so the dagger and the rope tendered were distraction.
“The evidence of the pathologist (PW3) clearly established the cause of the death.
The prosecution did not make any effort to tie the cause of death to the action of any individual or set of defendants.
“I am satisfied that the deceased has been shown to have died, but it remains at large after the conclusion of the prosecutions case as to the person or persons who caused his death.
“The pathologist who said the deceased died by strangulation, did not allude to any of the defendants as having carried out the act, he was never asked.
“There is absolutely nothing ro suggest that the death resulted from the act of the defendants,” the judge said.
The defendants, had told the court on June 9 that the prosecution had not made out a prima facie case to warrant calling them to defend themselves.
A prima facie case is made out in a criminal trial where the evidence presented is sufficient to secure a conviction unless it is successfully rebutted by the defence.
In a no-case-to-answer submission dated May 20, the defence counsel, Okezie Agbara, had told the court that the state’s case against his clients must collapse because it was built on unfounded suspicion.
An analysis of the pieces of evidence adduced by the state at the trial, he had submitted, showed that they were at best circumstantial.
“For a court of law to base conviction on circumstantial evidence, he had said, it must be of a compelling and irresistible nature to show that the accused persons and no one else were responsible for the crime.
“There has been no legally admissible evidence against the defendants,” Okezie argued, urging Justice Adebajo to hold that the prosecution failed to link any of the defendants with Williams’ murder.
Relying on Section 243 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law of Lagos State, the defence counsel urged the court to dismiss the charge and set his clients free, but the prosecution opposed the application, asking the court to strike it out.
Led by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Lagos State Ministry of Justice, Idowu Alakija, the prosecution said it had made out a prima facie case enough to warrant the defendants to enter a defence.
After entertaining arguments from the parties, Justice Adebajo adjourned till June 30 for ruling on the no-case application.
Ruling on the no-case application when the case came up yesterday, the judge upheld the defence’s argument, saying the prosecution failed to make out a prima facie case of conspiracy to commit murder and murder against the defendants.
“The state,” the judge said, “failed to establish the fact that the defendants conspired to kill Williams.”
While the prosecution alleged that the fourth to sixth defendants, policemen deployed to provide security for Williams, made calls with their co_defendants with the deceased’s mobile phone, Adebajo said, the state however failed to produce the call logs of the communication in court.
The prosecution, Justice Adebajo held, also failed to show that the mobile phone actually belonged to Williams.
Describing the evidence in proof of the charge of conspiracy to murder as circumstantial, the judge ruled that the court could not convict the defendants on a case that was “weak and superficial.”
On the count of murder, the judge said the prosecution was able to show that Williams was actually killed. Justice Adebajo, however, stated that the prosecution could not create a nexus between the crime and the defendants.
“Adebajo, said in the final analysis I am satisfied that the prosecution has failed to show a nexus between the defendants with a statutory element of the offence with which they have been charged”
Reviewing the evidence of the pathologist, Professor John Obafunwa, who said Williams was strangled to death, Justice Adebajo said: “I am satisfied that the deceased died, but there was nothing to show those responsible for his death.”
Discharging and acquitting the defendants, the judge ruled: “In the final analysis, the evidence is manifestly unreliable for the court to call upon the defendants to defend themselves.”
“The defendants are discharged and acquitted and the charge is dismissed”.
The defendants reacted differently as soon as the verdict was handed down. While some thanked God for giving them victory, others wept, recounting what eight years of trial had cost them.
Sergeant Imariabe Ikponmwose, leader of the police team guarding Funsho Williams at the time of the murder, could not be comforted. He just cried on and on.
Over the eight years the trial lasted, he said, the Nigeria Police sacked him, his wife left him and his ordeal caused his mother a stroke that had confined her to the hospital.
His colleague, Sergeant Mustapha Kayode, said he was sacked, he lost his three_month_old daughter, who never had the opportunity of knowing him, and his mother became blind from continuous crying.
Their lawyer, Agbara, who said he did the case pro bono (without legal fees), said it would now be just for the police to reinstate Ikponmwose, Kayode and Tunani Sonoma, who were sacked over the incident.
Bulama Kolo, Musa Maina, David Cassidy, Tunani Sonoma, Mustapha Kayode and Ikponmwose Imariabie were first arraigned on March 1, 2013 before Justice Adebajo on a two_count charge of conspiracy and murder of the PDP chieftain at his 34A, Corporation Drive, Dolphin Estate, Ikoyi home on July 27, 2006.
The offences are punishable under Sections 316 and 324 of the Criminal Code, Laws of Lagos State, 2003 with a mandatory death sentence.