11 December 2012

Liberia: Lawyer 'Fumbles' At Journalist's Armed Robbery Trial

The trial of Journalist Darlington Pelenah and two others accused of arm robbery finally commenced at the Criminal Court "A" at the Temple of Justice in Monrovia.

The Defense team headed by human rights lawyer Cllr. Dempster Brown of the Center for the Protection of Human Rights was seen fumbling over questions during the trial.

Journalist Pelenah, Benjamin Bookie Gbar and William P. Randolph were arrested and subsequently indicted for their alleged roles in an arm robbery incident in the G.S. A. community in Paynesville last July.

But the defendants have since pleaded not guilty following the reading of a twelve-count indictment by the court.

However, during Monday's trial, Cllr. Brown who appeared very hostile was heard asking several open ended questions that were objected and subsequently overruled by the court.

The over20 questions asked by the lead defense lawyer Brown, less than three were answered, while the rest were either objected, overruled or disallowed by the Judge.

At some point, Criminal Court "A" Judge James Zotaa, Jr. asked the lawyer to rephrase his questions for the understanding of the witness and the jurors.

Cllr. Brown's appearance at the trial nearly provoked the defendants to speak out in open court, after murmuring for several minutes.

The defendants were constantly heard murmuring among themselves throughout the lawyer's cross examination of the witness.

One of the defendants, Benjamin Bookie Gbar was about to voice his frustration in court when he was prevented by Judge Zotaa, adding, "That is not allowed in any part of the world, to allow defendant to speak during trial".

Most of Cllr. Brown's questions were objected and overruled by the court on several grounds, including irrelevant, immaterial, misquotation of the witness, among others.

Dressed in a yellow lening shirt with black stripes and a pair of black trousers and a pair of shoe, witness Edwin Thomas said he was shot in the head by Journalist Pelenah during the robbery.

He claimed that he saw Pelenah dressed in jeans trousers and jacket with white t-shirt, a cap and a pair of booth on his feet. The witness claimed that Pelenah placed him at gun point near the car that took him and his boss from their business center to the house.

Witness Thomas alleged that he was later ordered by Pelenah to lie on the ground, after which defendant Pelenah began stepping him behind his neck until blood began oozing from his nostril.

He said Pelenah later left him and ran to his boss (Weeks Thomas) and placed him at gun point and ordered him to turn the money that was in a black plastic along with the car keys.

The witness whose testimony was entirely centered on journalist Pelenah said: "There were many of them who entered the yard that night, but recognized Darlington Pelenah."

The witness testified that he managed to have identified Pelenah because he has known him (Pelenah) as his neighbor for many years.

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

The 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. However, arm robbery is a capital offence and is a non-bailable crime punishable by life imprisonment or death based on its degree.

The trial was suspended to tomorrow, Tuesday, December 11, 2012 at 10 am at the Temple of Justice.

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