4 December 2012

Liberia: Arm Robbery Trial Deferred

The trial of Kings FM News Director Darlington Pelenah and two others accused of arm robbery was Monday deferred due to incomplete facility at the jury quarters at the Temple of Justice.

Journalist Pelenah, Benjamin Bookie Gbar and William P. Randolph separately pleaded not guilty following the reading of a twelve-count indictment by the clerk of court.

The case was initially assigned for Monday, December 3, but was postponed to Wednesday, December 5, due to what the Court calls, minor works that is required to complete the jury quarters.

Criminal Court "A" Judge James Zotaa, Jr. said it was observed that the commode in the bathroom where the sequestrated jurors are expected to be housed was spoiled and the maintenance department at the Temple of Justice was instructed to remedy the situation.

Judge Zotaa said his decision to have deferred the trail to Wednesday was intended to avoid interference with jurors when the trial commences.

He said the law prohibits interference with the jurors when they have been sequestrated for particular trial.

"We don't want to violate the laws ourselves by sequestrating the jurors and then allow people to interfere with them; So we are asking that we start trial on Wednesday, anticipating that all works in that place will be completed and perhaps, too, the other area that is currently being occupied by Court "C" jurors will be free also," Judge Zotaa said.

The Criminal Court "A" Judge said his decision was also intended to avoid unnecessary delays when the trial begins.

The judge's decision was disappointing to several persons, including defense lawyers and others who usually gather to witness the trial.

The defendants were indicted in August this year for their alleged role in the commission of arm robbery in Monrovia.

The trial of the three (3) suspects is being presided over by Criminal Court "A" Judge Zotaa, who is also presiding Judge for Court "D" for this term of court.

The court recently granted a request for jurors to be selected and sequestrated for the trial, in order to provide what they called, "free, fair and impartial" trial for the defendants.

According to a three (3) page indictment drawn by the Grand Jury for Montserrado County on August 20, 2012, the defendants allegedly committed arm robbery on July 25 in the GSA Road community in Paynesville.

The twelve (12) counts indictment stated that on the above mentioned date, as complainant Weeks Thomas and his boys, Edwin Thomas and Chris Kettor drove home from their business center (Forex Exchange Bureau), the defendants rushed on them with several single barrel guns and immediately placed the complainant at gun-point and commanded them to lie on the ground.

The document said it was at that point one of the defendants grabbed the plastic that was containing US$17,000 and made away with it, while firing above their heads.

The indictment stated that prior to the departure of the defendants, one of the plaintiffs, Edwin Thomas, managed to have recognized Pelenah and was reportedly slapped in the face by Pelenah.

"It was then that he (Thomas) was shot in the head by one of the defendants and was taken to the Catholic Hospital," the indictment noted.

The defendants were separately arrested on July 26 and 29, 2012 at different locations in Monrovia.

Since their arrests, there have been public outcries about their release or a speedy trial for the suspects. Arm Robbery is a capital offence and is a non-bailable crime punishable by life imprisonment or death.

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