The US$1 million theft trial involving a pastor and his wife appears to be at stake with the judge hearing the case expected to appear before the Supreme Court today in response to a prohibition seeking to remove him from the trial.
The trial which started at the Criminal Court "C" in Monrovia last week was expected to continue today. But it has now been dramatically suspended after the main defendant, pastor Matthew Sakueh sought a seven-court writ of prohibition accusing presiding judge Peter W. Gbeneweleh of "handling the case contrary to legal procedure" by allowing witnesses who are expected to testify for the state to sit in the courtroom and listen to the testimony of another state witness.
In a letter of summons asking Judge Gbeneweleh "to stay all other proceedings in this matter pending the outcome of the conference," the clerk of the Supreme Court said the conference takes place in the offices of the Chamber Justice Philip Banks at 3 pm.
In the petition filed through his lawyers, pastor Sakueh argued that the indictment charging him and his wife, Plenseh, with property theft, misapplication of entrusted property and criminal conspiracy amounting to US$1 million, named Hilda Videro, Francis Dunbar and Gudrum Margret Palsdottir as witnesses for the prosecution.
The charges stemmed from allegations that the pastor and his wife received up to one million United States dollars from the ABC International Church at various times under the guise of constructing the church's branch in Liberia.
But the petitioner said since the commencement of the trial only one of the witnesses, Margret Palsdottir has been qualified and is testifying in court. According to the petitioner, the prosecution failed to qualify two other witnesses who were in the court listening to the testimony of the principal witness.
When the matter was raised during trial, the defence said, the judge refused to rule on the submission and instead "declared that counsel for the petitioner has destroyed the court record by applying for said admission and therefore ordered the clerk to remove the entire page that contained the submission."
The judge's action in removing records made by the petitioner's counsel from the proceeding certainly runs contrary to the procedure that ought to be observed by all judges from all times ..." the petitioner said.
The petitioner also contended that the presiding judge's action in permitting witnesses who are to testify to sit and listen to the testimony of another witness "defeats the method of fair trial, especially so in a criminal trial, where the uncorroborated testimony of each witness will be the ground for the dismissal of the case."
Meanwhile, presiding judge Peter Gbeneweleh, who has not yet commented on the matter, is expected to appear before the Chamber Justice today and explain his side of the case.