13 December 2012

Liberia: Judge Threatens Spectators

The judge told a crowd of people watching the armed robbery case of a local journalist and two others Tuesday that he was a dictator who could invoke his powers at any stage of the trial to keep order.

Judge James Zotaa of the Criminal Court 'D' went on to threaten to boot the spectators and others out of the courtroom if they failed to control their emotions.

He cautioned the spectators and others to restrain themselves by controlling their emotions as the trial progresses or risk being detained or thrown out of the courtroom.

He also said he would invoke his "dictatorial" powers to deal with any issue that threatens to impede the progress of the case in which journalist Darlington Pelenah of King's F.M. and two others are standing trial on armed robbery charges.

The judge's statement was prompted after he observed that several spectators were getting too emotional in the courtroom, with some of them seen either talking or loitering during the trial.

"The court is not a market ground or place for joke. Everyone here has an important role to play especially in this armed robbery case. If you are here to hear the trial, then stop being emotional by talking or loitering during hearings. This warning does not only affect spectators but also jurors, court staffs and both state prosecutors and defence lawyers. We are not here for joke. So, if anyone defies me you will know how dictatorial I'm legally," he pointed out.

Interestingly at the end of the proceeding judge Zotaa exercised his authority when he ordered the detention of a spectator who violated his order. "Sheriff have that man detained until court closing hour and so be it."

In a related development defendant Darlington Pelenah, William Randolph and Benjamin Bookie Gbar have terminated the service of Human Right Lawyer Cllr. Dempster Brown for what they termed as poor presentation at the trial.

Cllr. Brown was the lead defence lawyer in the trial but the defendants observed that the he poorly performed during the cross examination of the state first witness Edwin Thomas.

Cllr. Brown asked 20 questions with only three being responded to while the rest were rejected on legal grounds.

"We don't want the legal services of Cllr. Dempster Brown, your honour, because we are not satisfied with his presentation here. We believe that his legal argument here will not help us in wining this trial. We, therefore, want to replace him with Atty. David Woah in this trial," Pelenah stressed.

The presiding Judge granted the defendants' request, saying they always have the right to choose as many lawyers as they want to represent them legally.

The state indicted the three accused last August for armed robbing a businessman, Weeks Thomas, at his GSA Road residence on 25 July 2012.

In the 12-count indictment, Weeks said at 10 pm, Edwin Thomas and Chris Kettor picked him up from his Foreign Exchange Bureau at the Paynesville Joe Bar Community bound for home.

He said when they entered their yard, the defendants rushed on them with several single barrel guns and shot in the air.

According to him, the defendants grabbed his plastic bag containing US$17,000 from his Green Nissan pickup and made away with it while still firing in the air.

He claimed that he recognized two of the defendants including Pelenah who slapped him in the face.

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