5 February 2013

Nigeria: Death Sentence - Reverend King Loses Round Two

Lagos — "This appeal fails and is hereby resolved against the appellant. This appeal is devoid of merit and it is hereby dismissed. The conviction and sentence passed on the appellant on January 11, 2011 by Justice Joseph Oyewole of the Lagos High Court, Ikeja Division is hereby affirmed."

With the above verdict of Justice Fatima Akinbami of a Lagos Court of Appeal, the hope of the General Overseer of the Christian Praying Assembly, Chukwuemeka Ezeugo, also known as Reverend King, to save his life dashed. He is to die by hanging for the role he played in the death of one of his church members seven years ago.

The implication of the verdict of the court to the members of the public is overwhelming as they painstakingly see what becomes of a man who had enslaved his fellow men under the influence of religion.

The controversial pastor was dazzled when Justice Akinbami read the lead judgment, but that didn't bother most people who thronged the court premises.

Ezeugo was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging on January 11, 2007 for the alleged murder of a church member, Ann Uzoh by Justice Joseph Oyewole of a Lagos High Court.

He was arraigned on September 26, 2006 on a six-count charge of attempted murder and murder.

The pastor stuck a match on July 22, 2006 and set six members of the church ablaze. Chiejina Olise, Chizoba Onuorah, Vivian Ezeocha, Jessica Nwene, Kosisochukwu Ezenwankwo sustained serious burns.

Ann Uzor however died as a result of Hypovolemic shock eleven days after the incidence.

Armed with the 16 grounds of appeal, he proceeded to the appellate court on January 16, 2007 to get the verdict quashed against him.

The Appeal Court also granted him leave to argue additional 16 grounds of appeal through an amended notice of appeal he filed on June 15, 2008.

On November 5, last year his counsel, Barrister Olalekan Ojo, told the higher court during the hearing of the matter that his client neither committed the crime nor was present at the scene of the said murder.

He contended that the deceased, Ann Uzoh, had in two statements made after the incident and before her death, said that she got burnt in a generator accident, adding that the pastor should not be held responsible for the injuries she sustained.

"The burnt injuries were from a generator accident and the appellant was not responsible for the said injuries."

He said his client was in his bedroom and only rushed out when he heard cries of the victims.

Mr. Ojo maintained that the prosecution did not prove their case beyond reasonable doubt as their witnesses had given conflicting accounts of the incident.

According to him, the Investigating Police Officer, IPO, had tendered statements which stated that Ezeugo was not responsible for the burns which led to Uzoh's death, but they were not admitted in evidence.

He added that Justice Oyewole's refusal to admit the exhibits in evidence caused serious miscarriage of justice.

Adopting his written address, Lagos State Solicitor-General, Mr. Lawal Pedro, urged the court to uphold Justice Oyewole's verdict.

He said there was enough corroborating evidence, both written and oral, upon which the conviction was secured.

Also during the hearing of the matter at the higher court, a number of witnesses were invited to give their accounts of the incidence.

One of the witnesses told the court that after the fuel was poured on the six worshippers, the controversial pastor struck the match.

Another witness said that the match box was brought to the pastor after his lighter failed.

But Ms. Akinbami, who gave the unanimous verdict on the over five years appeal said that whether the match was struck straightaway or after the lighter failed, was immaterial to the court.

"It is not every contradiction in the prosecution that will raise a doubt. For a contradiction to be material, it must lead to a miscarriage of justice," the judge said.

She said all the witnesses are unanimous that the appellant used matches. She also said the evidence given by eyewitnesses and that of a pathologist linking the cause of death to 'hypovolemic' (severe loss of blood and tissues), showed that Ezeugo's action was the cause of one of the victims' death.

"The evidence is overwhelming and damning. He was offering them stone when they demanded for bread. He was giving them scorpion when they demanded for fish."

Although the prosecution hailed the verdict as a demonstration of candour and courage of the judiciary, Reverend King said he is still not pleased and has proceeded to the apex court where he hopes to get the death sentence hanging on his neck like an albatross extricated

His counsel, Mr. Olalekan Ojo said: "I am sure that the appellant (Mr. Ezeugo), who has always maintained his innocence, who has always seen himself as a victim of vicious manipulation of a gang of reckless and mischievous persons, would want to go further in the judicial hierarchy."

Nigerians are no doubt waiting for what the Supreme Court's verdict would be on the controversial and self-acclaimed pastor whose deeds are short of the teachings of Christianity.

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