Liberia: House Reviews Impeachment Request Against Judge Chineh for Ruling in Favor of American Missionary

Capitol Hill — The acquittal of Lucas Richards, an American missionary who was on trial for attempting to kill his girlfriend, Jessica Lloyd, on Wednesday, came as a shock to the public. However, of greater concern is that the ruling was an injustice to Jessica and her family.

The House of Representatives has authorized its Join Committee on Judiciary and Gender to investigate the recent legal case that led to the acquittal of Lucas Richards, an American Missionary charged with Aggravated Assault and Criminal Attempt to Commit Murder against Jessica Lloyd.

Richards was found not guilty by Criminal Court 'B' at the Temple of Justice on Wednesday, April 17, following a legal battle between the prosecution, represented by the Government of Liberia, and the defense.

In the ruling, Judge Nelson Chinneh noted that the evidence presented by the prosecution was insufficient and that the witnesses' testimonies contradicted each other.

The verdict triggered public outcry, with many expressing concerns about potential tampering with justice, particularly after the emergence of a leaked audio recording suggesting discussions of a settlement between the lawyers of both parties.

The issue was brought to the attention of the House of Representatives following a communication from Rep. Moima Briggs Mensah (District #6, Bong County), who described Judge Chinneh's verdict as disturbing and called for an investigation that could lead to the judge's impeachment.

Rep. Mensah stated, "A young Liberian lady was left vulnerable to the justice system when her assistant, with all the evidence adduced, was found not guilty and acquitted by the judge in the Criminal Court. This verdict met the appalling despair of thousands of Liberians across the country and many around the world. Mr. Speaker, it is the responsibility of this Legislature to conduct oversight across the entire government, and where justice is derailed or denied, we must act. Therefore, I request that Plenary conducts an inquiry that may lead to the impeachment of the judge in question for bringing the Judiciary and the entire government to disrepute."

In response, various lawmakers offered differing opinions. Rep. Alexander Poure (District #1, River Gee County) cautioned against overstepping legislative authority by questioning judicial decisions, citing constitutional constraints.

Rep. Poure said, "According to our rule and constitution. I don't see any provision of the law that give us the oversight responsibility to invite, or investigate or review the decision of judges or of the judiciary. What I can recall clearly is that the constitution gives us the mandate to impeach so, I will like our colleague to make clear her communication."

"If she feels that the judge has gone against the Constitution then she must put forth an impeachment bill, but to invite the judge here, I think the judges are being protected by the constitution. And so, we do not have any mandate to call any judge here," he added

On the other hand, Rep. Musa Bility (District #7, Nimba County) supported Rep. Mensah's call for an inquiry, emphasizing the need for transparency and accountability in the justice system.

Rep. Bility said it is prudent that the Legislature intervene to ensure justice is served. He called for the Liberian Government to pursue the case in the United States if it is established that the defendant has returned. The United States, he said has always criticized Liberia's justice system. So, if is established that justice was thwarted in favor of Richards, an American national, then the United States should cooperate with the Liberian Government to ensure justice is served.

He continued: "Secondly there are allegations that the defense offer bribe to the family. That becomes our responsibility to investigate and I fear that the defendant has left and therefore we must prepare civil action. Therefore, we can pursue and make sure we hire lawyer in the United to press charges.

Speaker J. Fonati Koffa, while acknowledging the limitations on legislative interference in judicial matters, suggested involving the Ministry of Justice to investigate the circumstances surrounding the case, especially regarding the leaked audio.

"We don't have the right to call any judge, but we have the right to call the victim. There was a recording of the victim's lawyers in negotiations. We have the right to call those people to ascertain certain facts. If in the inquiry you believe that the decision of the judge was influenced by anything other than his pure legal profession, or opinion, then you can initiate what we call impeachment proceedings." Impeachment proceedings are indeed extreme remedy. So, I will think we send it to judiciary to begin the necessary inquiry before we can go to any other level of impeachment or otherwise," Cllr. Koffa said.

The House's decision to launch an inquiry reflects ongoing concerns about the fairness and transparency of the judicial system, particularly in high-profile cases involving serious criminal charges.

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