Often cases of high public interest are unarguably greeted with unease among members of the public attending court proceedings; but public anxieties are controlled by the courts to avoid distractions and other disruptions. When the 19 Grand Gedeans indicted of mercenarism were first brought to court on Monday, June 17 to face prosecution, some of the sympathizers and court audience thought the entire process would have instantly ended maybe that same week.
Funny to hear, others in fact thought when jury selection process did not successfully complete immediately to have a panel of 15 jurors, the court would have subsequently made a ruling to be finished with the case entirely. The ongoing mercenary trial is no different from other cases that have grasped high public interest like the ex-city mayor Mary Broh’s scenario at the Monrovia City Court; the little Angel Togba alleged murder saga; and the deceased maritime Cadets case, among others.
During cases like these, people of all walks of life that sometimes express fears to just pass around the court yard once nothing concerns them there, would just “take the risk” to follow the crowd to witness that particular trial of their interest. With that, you have huge crowd mixed with market sellers, students, civil society people and even individuals from the security apparatus like the army and police following such case even though it may not be an assignment, but apparently to have experience.
Then, you come to see anxiety completely expressed in the attitudes of others especially when they think things should proceed in the court room the way they had imagined it outside. Since the Grand Gedeans begun appearing at the Criminal Court “D” at the Temple of Justice, a huge crowd assumedly dominated by their kinsmen known for their high level of solidarity, would not stop waving to the detainees as they do when they were being taken to the Monrovia Central Prison after a day’s trial.
Armed officers of the Liberia National Police are well posted outside the court to control the rest of the crowd that did not enter court room due to over crowdedness. Police search individuals daily, including journalists carrying bags for “security reason” once they went there to cover the case.
After the first 16 of a batch of 20 jurors were denied on 26 June by both defense and state lawyers, the court had written various municipalities across Monrovia to submit additional 20 names out of whom it would screen and possibly qualify 11 jurors to join the four initially selected. When the court resumed the process on Friday, 28 June, some people in the audience could not understand that it was the usual practice that lawyers on both sides would simply object to certain prospective jurors for whatever ground they thought was unfavorable for the transparent hearing of the case.
Their reactions to lawyers’ screening tactics suggest some had come with the belief that once a township commissioner had submitted a juror’s name, they were “almost across the bridge. But it’s just the beginning, if you keenly follow the process.
As such, when they saw certain lawyers intensively screening or objecting to prospective jurors they were not satisfied with, murmuring would begin in the audience such as: “He thinks we are afraid of his face; look at him there; Your wasting people time here; So this case won’t start now?”, among others. But all of these boring experiences would not have faced some of those seeing the process to be long if they did not hear of some big cases that may have driven their interest.
Even the defendants in the dock could not hold their “peace” from making lots of comments when they were just asked whether “Guilty or Not Guilty” as part of the court procedures, following the reading of indictment to the accused. “We will win yor; yor lie on us,” among others, were few comments the defendants made.
On Friday, 28 June, another 13 jurors were denied during screening, and only three selected, totaling seven now being qualified while a total of 29 jurors have been denied since the selection process began in the mercenary trial last week. At the close of the day’s transaction on Friday, the court however sent out a stern warning to jurors already selected to “stand like men” because, any foul play would not go unpunished.
Already, one juror had been sentenced to 15 days prison for deceptive conduct, when prosecution found that he had lied under oath with two different names on different trials- in February 2012 and June 2013, respectively.
About the author: Winston W. Parley is a staff writer at the NewDawn Newspaper with some three years reportorial experience from the justice sector. Parley has reported from the Judiciary where he has been assigned. He has also reported from the Executive Mansion before and during the electoral process in 2011.