A Makurdi High Court Judge, Justice T.A. Kume, sentenced five men to death by hanging for culpable homicide on Wednesday. The men, Terna Zwave, Jonathan Gbajime, John Bur, Gabriel Ianna and Kwaghgba Zaki, who lived at Anchoha Village, Gwer-East Local Government Area of Benue, were charged before a Makurdi Magistrates’ Court in 2021 with criminal conspiracy, criminal trespass, mischief and culpable homicide, punishable under sections 97, 349, 329 and 222 of the penal code laws of Benue, 2004.
The prosecution said on October 5, 2021, the men conspired, trespassed on land belonging to one Oliver Jato, and cut down trees in order to make charcoal. The prosecution said the defendants were then confronted by Abraham Hwange, Peter Agber and Mr Biija, who is now deceased, which resulted in violent scuffles. He said the convicts beat Mr Biija to death. The case was eventually transferred to the High Court on legal advice.
When the case came up, the first defendant, Mr Zwave, pleaded guilty, while all the others pleaded not guilty. The defendants testified for themselves without calling any witnesses, while the prosecution called seven witnesses to prove its case.
Prosecution counsel, R.B.N. Amenger, submitted in his final written address that the rest of the defendant’s plea of not guilty was only a mere denial. Mr Amenger argued that the defendants had completely failed to raise a defence as to the commission of all the offences established but rather dwelt on mere denials and technicalities, which he said were not material or fatal to the case of the prosecution.
Defence counsel, D.U. Liam, said in his final written addresses that the prosecution had not proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt to warrant the sentence of the defendants. However, the trial justice ruled that the prosecution had proved its case beyond all reasonable doubts, saying that denying the commission of an offence did not amount to not committing it.
Mr Kume said the burden of proof rests on the defence counsel, which he failed to achieve. Mr Kume said he had heard the plea for mercy by the defendants and the statement by their counsel in which the Lord’s prayers were contained in the words. He stated that the law for which he was bound to apply in the case did not have the grace contained in the Lord’s prayer. He, therefore, sentenced them to death by hanging on the four-count charge.