Defense and prosecutors entered a very tense debate Tuesday at the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill where justices are to decide whether or not, to confirm a lower court’s judgment, sentencing 13 Liberians to life-imprisonment for alleged mercenary activities that killed seven UN Peace keepers in neighboring Ivory Coast.
But it is not immediately clear which way the justices will go in terms of affirming the sentence or reversing the lower court’s decision to set them free as justices have reserved ruling.
Arguing on appeal at the Supreme Court yesterday, former Liberian Solicitor General, now defense Lawyer, Cllr. Tiawon Gongloe, pleaded for the high court to reverse the lower court’s judgment in ordering the release of the 13 convicts for claims that prosecutors did not prove beyond reasonable doubts.
In mid June 2014, presiding Criminal Court “D” Judge Emery S. Paye sentenced the defendants to life imprisonment after denying a motion for retrial that followed defense lawyers’ claims of alleged jury bribery of US$500 to each member of the panel.
Some of the defendants were earlier released in the middle of the trial, as other co-defendants Isaac Cheebo, Prince Baryee, Jacob Saylee, Mohammed Massaquoi, Nyezee Barway, Morris Cole, Isaac Sayon, Stephen Gloto, as well as Emmanuel Saymah, Moses Baryee, Sam Tayee and Ophoree Diah, and one other who remained on trial claimed innocence.
The defendants were allegedly part of attacks against villages located in the West of Cote d’Ivoire in Sao, Para and Nigre, allegedly burning houses and farms, as well as killing seven UN peacekeepers and an Ivorian Soldier, according to state witness N’gadi Dekoin Afirmin- an Ivorian security officer.
Cllr. Gongloe insisted that the prosecutors did not have evidence beyond reasonable doubts to link the defendants to alleged arms or going to La Cote d’Ivoire and executing military activities, arguing that arm issues were based on speculation made by the State.
The lead defense lawyer to the Supreme Court further argued that it was not established that the convicts were recruited and trained in Liberia for mercenary activities in Cote d’Ivoire, as he pondered over why prosecutors allegedly failed to bring witnesses from Grand Gedeh County, including Town Chiefs, Small Barway who allegedly linked his father to the crime, as well as police officers, to be cross-examined.
He alleged that “90 percent” of the case rested on police statement with no independent statements coming from eyewitnesses from the alleged crime scene to corroborate police charges.
Comparing the mercenary case with a scenario with the case involving imprisoned ex-President Charles Taylor’s son – Chuckey Taylor, Cllr. Gongloe argued that the US State Department dispatched investigators here and they visited the dreaded Gbatala base of Mr. Taylor’s Anti-Terrorist Unit in Bong County to get firsthand account from witnesses, unlike the case with the Liberian authorities in the mercenary case.
He finally alleged that at the time police claimed to have taken statements from the convicts in Monrovia on the basis of which they wanted the defendants convicted, they were keeping the accused under “inhumane and degrading conditions,” concluding that the court was not a church where one will say “just believe me” to suffer the defendants.
But state lawyer Cllr. Theophilus C. Gould counter-argued that there was no contradiction or variance regarding prosecutors’ evidence, saying witnesses testified that the crime scene was both here in Liberia and neighboring Cote d’Ivoire.
Cllr. Gould requested the justices on the Supreme Court bench to affirm the ruling from the lower court… to demonstrate that Liberia has taken decisive action against the mercenary activities of its citizens against a neighboring state.
Cllr. Gould further argued that with the testimonies given both by state and defense witnesses, there was no reason for anyone to argue that the accused were not guilty.
Cllr. Gould insisted that the Liberian Government fully established the case, adding that the defendants were in Grand Gedeh and all in Cote d’Ivoire as well.
According to him, witness Thomas Gladior – a suspended correctional officer-turned police informer, narrated how some officers of the Liberia National Police’s Emergency Response Unit or ERU, waited along the border and went on to arrest suspects who had placed their bag at a Town Chief house in Grand Gedeh.
By Winston W. Parley