Liberia: Woman, 26, Sentenced for 25 Years

9 January 2019

A student of the University of Liberia, Johnetta Pinky Abu, has finally been sentenced for twenty-five years at the Monrovia Central prison.

Judge Roosevelt Willie stated that defendant Abu will serve twenty-two years behind bars while three years will be served on probation depending on good behavior.

Pinky was founded guilty last week by nine of the 12 jurors for killing her boyfriend Morris Johnson, an employee of NASSCORP.

The defense counsel pleaded to the court for motion for new trial but was denied by Judge Willie.

According to Judge Willie's ruling, "this motion of a new trial emanates from a verdict handed down by the trial jury in these proceedings on December 31, 2018, in which three of the jurors found the defendant not guilty while the rest nine found the defendant guilty of the crime of Murder.

Under the jury law enacted and placed into hand bail between 2012 and 2013, Section 2011 says that for a verdict to be announced whether guilty or not guilty that verdict should comprise 3¼ of the entire jury which number twelve that goes into their room of deliberation. Therefore, the verdict of the trial jury as was announced wherein three brought the defendant down not guilty and nine brought the defendant down guilty means that 3¼ of twelve is nine, so that nine jurors in number constitutes a guilty verdict.

It is this verdict that the court ordered the Clerk to place it on the minutes of court and also it is this verdict that Counsel for the defendant has challenged raising three of the many grounds as stated in the Criminal Procedure Law, Section 22.1, and three grounds being raised are: That the juror decided the verdict by lot or by any other means by a fair expression of the opinion on the part of the all the jurors; That her prosecuting attorney was guilty for misconduct; That the verdict is contrary to the weight of the evidence."

The Judge recalled that defense counsel further argued that the trial jurors while in their room of deliberations did not take into consideration reasonable doubt, and the principles of self-defense, heat of passion and battle women syndrome.

"Resisting to the said motion Prosecution Counsel says that the issue of reasonable doubt was proven by prosecution during the trial and it is not basic on which the trial jury brought down a guilty verdict of the defendant.

Prosecution also argued that reference all the other counts as asserted by the defense, this court should dismiss same as the basic for which defense counsel asked the court to put the verdict aside and have a new trial is groundless.

This court having listened to the law citations and the argument put forth by the parties will raise three issues which when answered will determine as to whether or not this court should grant a new trial.

Whether or not Prosecution proved its case beyond reasonable doubt for which defendant Johnetta Pinky Abu should be guilty of the crime of murder?

Whether or not a party in ligation such as Johnetta Pinky Abu can deny the stabbing and subsequent death of the late Morris Johnson and at the same time plea affirmatively?

Whether or not the three grounds relied upon by the defense counsel as enshrined in the criminal procedure law are valid and firmly argued by the defense counsel for which this court should overturn the verdict of the trial jury?"

Continuing, the Judge said "according to the facts of this case particularly the testimonies of the principal witness defendant Johnetta Pinky Abu, she states that when the love relationship began between her and the late Morris Johnson, they had a good relationship and good time.

However, the behavior of late Morris Johnson suddenly changed when she gave birth to their daughter Paris. She further stated that on several occasions she was beaten by Morris Johnson and cited an example where she had to leave his residence and sort refuge at one of her friend's place, and while there a meeting was held with her father in attendance during which time the deceased begged her and she returned home to him.

Defendant Pinky also stated that at one point the deceased sent her or a threatening message during which time he stated that if he came back from Buchanan and met her at his residence he would kill, her the baby and himself.

It was this threat that made her to leave his residence and leased an apartment on her on at the SKD Sports complex, and by her departure she understood that the love relationship never again existed."

Judge Willie, in his ruling argued that the issue of the weapon or the criminal agency that was used to stab the late Morris Johnson is not in dispute because all of the witnesses testified to a knife.

"The question is who used the knife to kill Morris Johnson? We again revert to the facts of the case, the defendant Pinky Abu told the court that while she and her fiancée was in a fight when she managed to release herself from under him she went for a knife to scare him.

It is interesting to note that it is knife that was used to stab the deceased.

Therefore, where is the doubt when two people are fighting and one person takes a knife to scare another and the other being stabbed and subsequently die as far as this court is concerned there is no doubt.

The defense counsel tries to rely on the doubt as opined by the Supreme Court of Liberia in the Zoe Banjoe vs. R.L. and for the purpose of this ruling we shall summarize the facts.

In that case according to Zoe Banjoe he was being prosecuted by one William Sando and got irritated and wanted to kill the Sando, in the process he shot a short gun and while he was attempting to runaway the police and other soldiers fired several shots behind him and those shots killed to decedents.

So without an autopsy or forensic being conducted to determine whether or not it was Zoe Banjoe or the guns being fired, the jury brought him down guilty. The Supreme Court held that where several guns are fired in the crowd before the court should have brought down defendant down guilty there was a need to do a forensic to determine whose gun fire."

In the case at bar, the Judge said "there are only two persons fighting over a knife and the other person she took the knife to scare the deceased, there was no other person with a knife around during the fight.

So if the knife was allegedly stabbed on someone and that person within that time was taken to the hospital and died on arrival from a prudent man judgment the trial jury was right that there was no reasonable doubt.

In fact the black law dictionary 9th edition by Brown A. Gardner editor in chief defined reasonable doubt as the standard used by a jury to determine whether a criminal defendant is guilty.

It states further that it is that state of a case which, after the entire comparison and consideration of all the evidence, leaves the minds of the jurors in the condition that says they feel a biding conviction to a moral certainty of the truth of the charged.

Hence, the emphasis here is on the comparison and the evidence.

And as in this case the trial juror really considered and compared the evidence adduced in this trial and that the reason why they did not consider reasonable as a ground to set the defendant free."

Judge Willie further stated that on the second issue as to whether or not defendant Pinky Abu can deny that she did not stab the deceased Morris Johnson but at the same time plea affirmatively, "our law forbids that because the principles of self-defense, battle women syndrome are affirmative defenses.

Meaning that you go to the court and say that yes I did it. You cannot say the jury erred because the jury did not consider these principles.

The trial jury did not err because the defendant say she was being battled or I did in the heat of passion.

The Supreme Court has opinion in 13LLR, page 278 that an answer which both denies and avoids is dismissible and inconsistence and an answer both denies and avoids, the defendant will be ruled to a general denial of the allegation contained in the complaint, and that is referred to as double pleadings."

The Criminal Court "A" Judge added that, "therefore the defendant Johnetta Pinky Abu cannot say or cannot use the principles of self-defense, battle women syndrome and heat of passion and at the same say that she did not stabbed Morris Johnson which led to his death."

He stated that "it is interesting to note that the defense counsel said assuming but not admitting that his client wanted to use those principles just stated that is, self-defense, heat of passion and battle women syndrome she would have had the right to do so but because she did not stabbed the late Morris Johnson which led to his death, she did not use those principles in his argument.

Assuming that that is the case I will read verbatim the concluding statement of the defense counsel in count 7 of his motion to set this verdict aside that the trial jury ignored the court' jury instruction read to them by this court and that failure to follow the court's instruction also undermines the right of the defendant.

The trial jury ignored the principles of reasonable doubt, self-defense, battle women syndrome read to this by this court.

By that statement the counsel is telling this court because the jury did not take these principles into consideration that verdict should be set aside.

The court says that the defense is pleading affirmatively because that those principles that what it means and whoever you use to principles you are confessing to the crime.

But the defendant is not confessing to the crime but is using these principles for the jury to use them and set the defendant free. And therefore the answer to issue raise in question is emphatically NO."

Judge Willie: "We now proceed to the third issue as to whether or not the three grounds given by the defense counsel as herein above stated should be entertained by this court and thereafter set the verdict aside.

The first ground as stated by the council is that the jury decided the verdict by lot or by other means by fair expression of opinion on the part of all the jurors.

This law interprets as it is either by guessing or taking evidence outside of the facts produced in court and the defense counsel mentioned specifically as evidence outside the court when the defendant Pinky Abu was asked as to whether she was getting ready to get married to the deceased Morris Johnson.

The testimony that prompted that question from the juror is when defendant Pinky Abu stated that she and the deceased and her daughter was scheduled at one point to come and travel abroad and apparently because the juror did not understand too well asked the defendant am I correct to say that you said you and the deceased along with your daughter were scheduled to travel abroad to marry!

By that question the insinuation is to confirm or deny which question was answered by the defendant.

That statement cannot be considered as evidence outside of the court or deciding the verdict of this case by lot."

The second issue raised by the defendant is that the prosecuting attorney was guilty of misconduct and therefore the court should set the verdict of the jury aside.

The court says and has always maintained during the proceedings in this case, both the defense counsel and the prosecution were warned on several occasions to stop talking when they were not given the right to talk by this court.

And this court ended up fining both the counsels although the fine of the defense counsel was that of coming to court very late, and the defense counsel is telling the court to set the jury verdict aside at one point the court quarrel with prosecution by saying that just how you want threat Morris.

Again the intent of misconduct as enshrined in this law means that the behavior of the counsel is as such that it goes to the merit of the case and influences the decisions of the jury which was not the case at bar.

The third issue raised by the defense counsel is that the verdict is contrary to the weight of evidence, as we had earlier stated that prosecution proves it case beyond reasonable doubt and although one of the arguments of the defense counsel is that all of the witnesses who testified before court did not state specifically whether they saw Pinky juking the late Morris Johnson with knife.

The supreme court of Liberia has opined that it is not really necessary for people to see someone committing a crime before that person can be brought to justice.

30LLR, pg. 576, syl. 2 & 5 "it is not necessary that one actually being seen committing a crime before he could be held guilty but it is sufficient to be convicted whenever the logical deductions from the facts and circumstances lead to the accused is connected to the crime".

The change of testimonies will make the reasonable man to conclude that you committed that act as in the case at bar and the various testimonies produced by the defendant state that the deceased was very brutal and violent and this criminated to the event of June 14, 2018, he noted.

Judge Willie further stated that, "it was on this occasion that the defendant herself testified that she went to the kitchen and after she was punched on several occasion but that in the process she does not know what happen next.

The decease subsequently died from a stab wound.

The logical conclusion from the Supreme Court is in here where two persons were fighting and one took a knife and one person stabbed the other and when taken to the hospital he was pronounced dead.

Therefore, the verdict of the trial jury was contrary to the evidence as the evidence produced during trial and circumstances which lead to the death of the late Morris Johnson dead linked defendant Johnetta Pinky Abu to the stabbing of the late Morris Johnson.

Therefore, the motion for a new trial as submitted to this court by the defense counsel based on the several reasons stated, this court hereby deny and the facts and circumstances and law cited therein.

The defense council took an appeal to the Honorable Supreme Court of Liberia sitting in its March A.D. Term of Court .

Prosecution also took an exception regarding the sentencing of the defendant either death by hanging or life time imprisonment which they were not satisfied with the Judge twenty-five years sentenced.

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