12 December 2012

Liberia: Lawyer 'Red-Carded' From Trial

Following his rather strange performance at the opening of the armed robbery trial of Kings FM News Director Darlington Pelenah and two others, the lead defense lawyer in the case has been 'red carded' from the trial.

Human rights lawyer Cllr. Dempster Brown of the Center for the Protection of Human Rights (CPHR) was asked to quit or recuse himself from the ongoing trial due to skepticisms from the defendant that he may not have a fair and impartial trial under the lawyer's supervision.

"We have unanimously agreed that Attorney David Woah be our new lead lawyer instead of Cllr. Brown," said Darlington Pelenah Tuesday, at the Temple of Justice when the case was called for trial.

According to Pelenah, they (defendants) noticed something strange about the lawyer while cross examining prosecution's first witness, Edwin Thomas, for which they resolved to have the lawyer replaced.

Prior to assertion by the defendants, journalist Pelenah refused to enter the dock when the case was called for trial on grounds that Cllr. Brown be recued from the case.

He later entered the dock after appeals from lawyers and the President of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), Peter Quaqua who usually attends the court proceedings.

Cllr. Brown also notified the court that he was quitting the trial because he was asked by Pelenah to do so.

Criminal Court "A" Judge James Zotaa, Jr. later ruled that the lawyer be recued as lead defense lawyer while Atty. Woah assumes the role as requested by the defendants.

Judge Zotaa said there was nothing procedurally wrong for another lawyer to continue a trial when one lawyer steps aside from the trial.

Immediately following the Judge's ruling, Cllr. Brown took off his court and said: "I have the right to witness the trial as human rights lawyer."

The case later continued with Atty. Woah serving as the lead council for the defendants.

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

During Monday's trial of the case, Cllr. Brown who appeared very hostile and sentimental was heard asking several opened ended questions that were objected and subsequently overruled by the court.

More than 20 questions were asked by the lawyer, three questions were answered while the rest were objected, overruled or disallowed.

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, outside Monrovia.

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 complainants 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 until tomorrow, Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 10 am at the Temple of Justice. Meanwhile, the trial is expected to continue today with prosecution second witness, Weeks Thomas on the witness stands.

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