JUSTICE Fatima Akinbami of the Court of Appeal in Lagos Friday upheld the judgment of the Lagos High Court, which convicted and sentenced to death, the General Overseer of Christian Praying Assembly (CPA), Chukwuemeka Ezeugo.
Ezeugo, also known as Rev. King, was convicted by Justice Joseph Oyewole of a Lagos High Court and sentenced to death by hanging on January 11, 2007 for the alleged murder of a church member, Ann Uzoh.
He was arraigned on September 26, 2006 on a six-count charge of attempted murder and murder, and had pleaded not guilty to all counts.
He was said to have poured petrol on the deceased for what he called “acts of fornication,” and set her ablaze, alongside others.
She eventually died as a result of injuries sustained from the burns.
The trial Judge consequently found him guilty as charged and sentenced him to death by hanging.
But the convict, through his counsel, Olalekan Ojo, challenged the judgment at the Court of Appeal and had argued his appeal on November 5, 2012.
Ojo pointed out that the trial Judge was wrong to have refused admissibility of a dying declaration made by the deceased, which exonerated the convict.
He had raised the defence of alibi before the court, stating that the appellant was absent from the scene of the incident at the time it occurred.
Ojo also argued that the evidences adduced by the prosecution witnesses were tainted and required corroboration and urged the appellate court to evaluate such evidence.
He had also argued that the evidence were contradictory in nature, and so had cast doubts on the case of the prosecution.
But the Lagos State government, represented by Solicitor General, Mr. Lawal Pedro (SAN), as respondent, also adopted its written address and urged the court to uphold Justice Oyewole’s verdict.
Delivering the judgment, Justice Akinbami held that all issues raised by the appellant failed and resolved same in favour of the respondent.
On the issue of dying declaration, the Justice said there must be the belief in the danger of approaching death and this belief is subjective, rather objective.
She 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.
Ruling on the defence of alibi raised by appellant counsel, the court said that the evidences adduced by prosecution witness (Pw) 1, 2, 3,4, 9 and 10 clearly pins the appellant to the scene of the crime.
“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,” she said.
Citing the case of State vs Fatai Azeez, Justice Akinbami ruled the evidence of the prosecution witnesses linked the appellant to the scene of the offence.
She disagreed with the appellant counsel that the evidences of prosecution witnesses were tainted and so inadmissible without corroboration, saying 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 eyewitness and so the evidence is material to the case,” she said.
On the issue of corroboration and evaluation of the evidence by the trial Judge, Justice Akinbami held that all evidence adduced by the prosecution witnesses were unanimous.
She said 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,” she said.
She added that the trial Judge was at liberty to write his judgment in his own style, provided it sets out the issue for determination, shows a clear understanding of the facts, as stated, and arrives at a logical conclusion.
She finally dismissed the appellant’s claim that the case of the prosecution was clustered with doubt.
According to Justice Akinbami, the evidence of PW 5, 8, 6 and 7 (doctors) all showed that the deceased died as a result of the burns, while the evidence adduced especially by PW 6, who performed the post-mortem examination, revealed that the deceased died as a result of loss of fluid arising from the burning.
She added that the evidence of PW 2, the Police Investigating Officer (PIO), also revealed the items used for carrying out the dastard act on the victim.
The Justice said the burden of proof in a criminal trial lied on the prosecution and this was proved beyond reasonable doubt.
“Proof does not mean proof beyond scientific certainty or beyond any shadow of doubt, but only beyond reasonable doubt.
“I hereby rule that the prosecution have 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 is also affirmed,” Justice Akinbami ruled.
She also condemned the attitude of some pastors towards their congregation, adding that the circumstances surrounding the death of the deceased was so bizzare.
She said: “The ingredient of this case is so bizzare. 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.”
Justices Amina Augie and Ibrahim Saulawa consented to the judgment.
However, the appellant’s counsel has notified his intention to file an appeal to the Supreme Court.
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