14 January 2013

Liberia: Pelenah Trial Re-Docketed

The Criminal Court "D" at the Temple of Justice has disbanded the entire jury panel and "re-docketed" the armed robbery case, involving broadcast journalist Darlington Pelenah and two co-defendants due to claims of jury tempering levied by state and defense lawyers.

Defendant Pelenah and co-defendants Benjamin Bookie Gbar and William P. Randolph have been on trial for allegedly armed robbing victims Weeks Thomas, Edwin Thomas and Chris Kettor at the GSA Road Community on July 25, 2012, allegedly making away with US$17,000 and shooting Edwin's head during the incident.

In his ruling on Monday, January 14, 2013 in Monrovia, Judge James W. Zotaa awarded a new trial of the case "before a jury that would not be accused of tempering," less than three weeks ahead of the February A.D. 2013 Court Term.

About a week after the court suspended Pelenah's trial and began investigating how Jurors Annie David and Judy Blamo were enlisted on the jury panel, lead defense lawyer Attorney David Woah claimed on Monday that prosecution objected to the two jurors "simply because they refused to accept monies from the private prosecutor so that they (jurors) would bring a verdict against the defendants."

On Wednesday, January 9, 2013, prosecutors objected to jurors Annie David and Judy Blamo in the trial, alarming that the West Point Township Commissioner Miatta H. Flowers had declared them "mercenaries", on grounds that the list of jurors that were sent from the township were without her prime knowledge, will and consent.

But in a chat with journalists outside court at the Temple of Justice yesterday, Attorney Woah claimed that his source informed him that Jurors Annie and Judy allegedly refused to accept their share of a US$150.00 offered 15 jurors as their Christmas gift, to bring a verdict against the defendants.

In countering the defense's claims made before the court during the investigation, prosecution argued that by virtue of the "counter information" brought by the defense, it implies that the two jurors had been in contact with the defense "which should not be the case."

However, Judge Zotaa said "the jury tempering could or might be on part of either of the parties in the case," saying the court does not want to risk the miscarriage of justice. Judge Zotaa said proceeding with the jury panel especially under such circumstances would suggest the verdict of guilty or of not guilty to a suspicious situation which the court does not want.

In ordering the court clerk to re-docket the case, Judge Zotaa instructed that the armed robbery case involving journalist Pelenah and co-defendants Benjamin Bookie Gbar and William P. Randolph should take precedence over all other armed robbery cases before the Court "D" [in the subsequent court term] given the circumstances of the case.

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