By Abdulwahab Abdulah
EVERY June 24 will always ring a bell in the mind of Akolade Arowolo, a 31 year old self acclaimed youth pastor, who was last Friday convicted for killing his banker wife, Titilayo Omozoje at their residence, 8, Akindeinde Street, Isolo, Lagos,.
This is because the day marks his birthday and the day he brutally murdered his wife, which eventually earned him a death sentence last week Friday. Justice Lateefa Okunnu of a Lagos High Court sitting in Ikeja sentenced Akolade to death having found him guilty of a murder charge pressed against him.
The events that led to the court’s judgment are almost becoming history, however, the outcome of Akolade’s actions as presented during the trial of the case will continue to hunt him, as he awaits his appeal at the Court of Appeal and perhaps at the Supreme Court.
Immediately the police concluded its investigation, Akolade was initially arraigned on July 8, 2011 before a Yaba magistrate court on one-count charge of murder. However, the DPP’s advice which indicated that there was a prima facie case against him led to his fresh arraignment before Justice Lateefa Okunnu of the state High Court on December 21, 2011.
The one count charge signed by the Directorate of Prosecution, Mrs Olabisi Ogungbesan, read: “Arowolo Akolade (M) on or about 24th day of June 2011 at 8, Akindele Street, Isolo, Lagos, in Ikeja division, murdered one Titilayo Omozoje Arowolo,” and that the offence contravenes Section 319(1) of the Criminal Code Law Cap 17 Vol 2 Laws of Lagos State.
After the preliminaries, trial began with 15 prosecution witnesses testified, including the father of the deceased, sisters, step-mother, the couple’s neighbour, security guard and their landlord. In his testimony, George Oyakhire, the deceased’s father, who was the first prosecution witness told the court that his daughter sounded tensed when he spoke with her on the day of the incident.
The witnesses also said that on a number of occasions, the deceased had moved back home after quarrels with the husband, but he had constantly told his daughter to report to the police.
“She came back more than 10 times after quarrels with my daughter.” He also said he had witnessed the aggressiveness of the defendant, because he (Akolade) always beat her and threatened to throw her down from the top floor of their one-storey apartment someday.
Some of the prosecution witnesses, who forced the door of the couple’s apartment open the day after the incident, had said Titilayo’s lifeless body was found on the bed soaked in blood. Deceased sister testified next.
She said the younger sister, Folake and herself called their sister, but Akolade was the one that answered the calls on the deceased starcoms phone, after they couldn’t reach him again. Later it was said that a friend, Mr Tolu Oyesanya called to say that the convict had been seen with blood stains. They eventually went to the house the next day.
Mr Adewale Tajudeen , a neighbour was PW3. He said from his apartment, he could easily see some of the happenings in the couples’ apartment.
According to him, on the day of the incident, he saw a deep cut on Akolade’s palm from which blood was gushing, but he didn’t answer any inquiries and simply shouted on the gate man to open the gate. He added that he told other neighbours and the next day they went to the police, to give statements.
Another prosecution witness was one Mr Ogbonna, a member of the investigating team from the state CID, who told the court that they inspected Akolade’s car and took photos. He said he visited the scene twice and conducted a thorough investigation.
Another principal prosecution witness was the deceased’s stepmother, who also testified to the extent that the couple had never enjoy a jolly relationship as husband and wife. On her account of what she saw on the occasion the door was forced opened, she said, “There was a knife on the floor, a gaping hole on her chest, and a hammer on the floor. One of her eyes was gorged out. When I saw it, I thought there was nothing in the socket.
“Something that looked like a lump of flesh must have been chopped off from the way the deceased was lying on the floor. They had a stormy marriage…shortly after they married, there was a quarrel, Kolade chased Omo (Omozoje)out with a knife. ” She added.
She testified that the deceased had complained that she was tired of the house and wanted to divorced him. She disclosed that in another incident, a house help said she saw the convict in bed with another woman and reported to the deceased and she moved back to her father’s house. She said, her father also told her not to go back, but Akolade came back to beg and convinced the deceased and she eventually moved back.
The Police witnesses also narrated details of the bloodied crime scene and how the corpse was taken to the hospital.
The “expert” witness of Professor John Obafunwa, a forensic pathologist and Chief Medical Examiner at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, according to the court provided ample evidence that the prosecution used to nail Arowolo.
Justice Okunnu described Obafunwa’s evidence as “completely professional,” noting that he was “objective, formal, and impassioned.”
After the pathologist conducted a five-and-a-half-hours postmortem examinations on the corpse on July 6, 2011, he said, during his testimony, that he “discovered at least 76 stab wounds resulting from the use of tremendous force on the chest, heart, lungs, liver, diaphragm, hands and other parts of the deceased’s body. There must have been many blows, stab wounds. It resulted in severe blood loss .
“The Stab wounds combined caused by sharp weapon , a single and double edged wound. Injuries to the front of the hear and back of the heart and wall of the heart. You can actually see through to the inside of the chest wall which had collapsed. A particular stab went through the rib cavity to the heart, the stomach was completely torn open.
“All these injuries could not have been self-inflicted because, at a point, you would have dropped the knife,” said Obafunwa.
The defence called six witnesses which included the defendant, his parents, and one Efe Alexandra, who works with a non-government organisation that visited the prison.
Mudashiru Arowolo, the convict’s father, said his son’s marriage to Titilayo had been characterized by undue interference by her father and stepmother.
Mudashiru accused the deceased’s stepmother of attempting to take away the placenta of the couple’s new baby, as well as introducing fetish things into their home.
He also accused the stepmother of assisting the deceased to “abort a baby and tie her womb as a form of family planning,” without informing his son. He further said his son had been a youth pastor at the Foursquare Gospel Church in FESTAC town before they moved to Isolo and he started attending RCCG,Gbagada, where he was a youth pastor. He also denied claims that his son was suspended by the church for womanising and wife-snatching.
During her testimony, the second defence witness, Bolanle Arowolo, had described her son as a well-behaved child who had never showed traits of violence.
In his own testimony, Akolade, told the court that the whole incident happened on his birthday, 24th of June, 2011, and that his wife woke him up with a kiss, and that the disagreement started over their baby’s shopping.
He denied ever being aggressive against his wife.
He said he only slapped her once, because she valued her ex-boyfriend more than him. He told the court that she (Titilayo) confessed that her step mum took her out for an abortion and he reported to her mother, but he denied ever chasing his wife with a Knife.
He said the only time she had bruises was when she had a fall from a bike. He however said she was temperamental and the family called her ‘Thatcher’. He therefore denied killing his wife, saying, “I love her. I never thought of it and I am not that kind of person.”
Justice Okunnu said the defendant’s (Akolade) own testimony served to tighten the noose around his neck as it was riddled with contradictions. The Judge said the evidence was disjointed statements, and “faux pas”.
“In his statements to the police after he submitted himself for arrest, Arowolo, had claimed that he was forced by the police to write that his wife’s stab wounds were self-inflicted. However, while giving evidence, Arowolo had insisted that his wife had only sustained cuts on her hands before he left her to seek for help.
“In a statement, he wrote that she persistently stabbed herself, that something went wrong either mentally or spiritually. I have not ignored this piece of evidence that he was guided to write the statements. The statements were disjointed and contradictory during testimony.
“I note that he proffered excuses for the strange behaviour of his wife. This explanation obviously came from him and not from anyone guiding him. The defendant in the box was trying hard to renege from his earlier statements,” said the court.
The judge also said that Mr Arowolo’s claim that his late wife had attacked him with a knife was inconsistent with the pathologist’s revelations that the deceased received multiple stab wounds resulting to a “blunt force trauma.”
She held, “I have carefully considered all the evidence. The issue is a simple one. It is the issue as to whether the defendant kills his wife.”
The court stated it needs to consider three ingredients to determine the case of murder.
These are whether the victim of the alleged act is indeed dead, whether it was the act of commission or omission of the defendant that caused the death and whether the defendant carried out the act intentionally.
“From the evidence put before the court by the prosecution and the defence, the victim is indeed dead. It stands without rebuttal.
The prosecution showed acts of characteristic violence in the marriage and showed that the defendant was capable of committing this heinous act. This was contained in the evidence of all four witnesses for the family, which showed an act of serial act of domestic violence on the part of the defendant.
“I am convinced that the deceased died from a repeated stabbing on that day because the testimony of the prosecution is heavy and also that of the expert. The defendant also testified to this. Almost two years later, he attempted changing his statement that it was the police who told him to write that she stabbed herself.”
She said Akolade’s words were fluid like someone writing from the top of his head as what he personally knew.
“This is very weighty and very significant because he was the only other person in the room with her and it corroborates the evidence of the pathologist that she died of stab wounds.”
The court now raised the question of who killed her?
Pathologist expert witness
She added, “This is where the evidence of the pathologist expert witness becomes useful. I found him to be very professional.” Justice Okunnu gave detail account of the testimony presented by Prof Obafunwa and concluded thus- “This is very damaging to the defendant. He testifies as to loads of wounds on the victim.
The postmortem gives more details. The deceased stomach was torn open. It details wounds to the body as well as her clothing. He rules out the possibility of fresh wounds after death or a case of tampering with the body.”
She said the line of defence that there was another person who may have committed the offence was defeated by the defence.
The court latter brought the doctrine of ‘last seen’. It held that the person, who saw the victim last, bears the responsibility for the cause of death. She said, “It supports the proof already before the court and adds probative value to the prosecutions’ case, that it was the defendant who killed his wife.”
“It is my findings that it is none other than the defendant himself who stabbed the deceased to death. After eliminating all other options, I find that it was the defendant who stabbed his wife.”
The court said, “I studied him and found him intelligent. He admitted that he did study logic and so he knew full well that grievous bodily harm was the consequence of his action. Her resultant death then turned to unlawful killing. His parents tried to debunk that domestic violence characterized the marriage, his mother tries to cover up his act and his father avoided questions put to him. The prosecution succeeded in proving its case. The defendant is guilty and he is hereby sentenced to death.”