Death Penalty: Maryam Sanda seeks to upturn conviction

… Files 20 Grounds of Appeal

Three weeks after she was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging by an Abuja High Court following the death of her husband, Bilyaminu Bello, Maryam Sanda has approached the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division, praying it to set aside the verdict and acquit her.

She said the trial judge was tainted by bias and prejudices, which led to the denial of her right to fair hearing and her consequent conviction based circumstantial evidence despite the reasonable doubt that was created by evidence of witnesses, lack of confessional statement, absence of murder weapon, lack of corroboration of evidence by two or more witnesses and lack of autopsy report to determine the true cause of her husband’s death.

In the notice of appeal predicated twenty grounds and filed by her legal team composed of Rickey Tarfa (SAN), Olusegun Jolaawo (SAN), Regina Okotie-Eboh and Beatrice Tarfa, Maryam Sanda said the judgment of the trial court was completely “a miscarriage of justice.”

She pointed to the failure of the trial judge to rule, one way or the other, her preliminary objection, challenging the charge preferred against her and the jurisdiction of the court as evidence of bias and a denial of her right to fair hearing as constitutionally guaranteed.

Upon taking arguments from the defence and prosecution counsel on the said preliminary objection on March 19, 2018, Justice Halilu had held thus: “I have seen the charge before me … objection which is on the whole based on defective charge. Having been taken shall be ruled upon at the conclusion of trial. I rely on section 396(2) of Administration of Justice Act, 2015.”

She submitted that “the honourable trial judge erred in law when having taken arguments on the appellant’s preliminary objection to the validity of the charge on the 19th of March, 2018 failed to rule on it at the conclusion of trial or at any other time.

According to her legal team, “the trial judge exhibited bias against the defendant in not ruling one way or the other on the said motion challenging his jurisdiction to entertain the charge” and “therefore fundamentally breached the right to fair hearing of the defendant.

In ground 2, the appellant contended that the trial judge erred and misdirected himself by usurping the role of the police when he assumed the duty of an Investigating Police Officer (IPO) as contained in Page 76 of his judgment.

In the said page, Justice Halilu had said “I wish to state that I have a duty thrust upon me to investigate and discover what will satisfy the interest and demands of justice.”

The appellant submitted that the wrongful assumption of the role of an IPO “the trial judge fail to restrict himself to the evidence adduced before the court” and instead went fishing for evidence outside those that were brought before the court.

She insisted that while “the duty of investigation is the constitutional preserve of the police, “the constitutional duty of a trial court is to assess the credible evidence before it and reach a decision based on its assessment.”

She argued that “!the trial’s court usurpation of the duty of the police by taking it upon itself to investigate and discover negatively coloured its assessment of the available evidence and resulted in it reaching an unjust decision contrary to the evidence before it.”

In ground 5, the appellant argued that “the trial judge erred in law and misdirected himself on the facts when he applied the doctrine of last seen and held at pages 82 – 83 of his judgment that the appellant was the person last seen with the deceased and thus bears the full responsibility for the death of the deceased, and thereby occasioned a miscarriage of justice.”

According to the particulars of error in support of ground 5, “there is no evidence before the trial judge that the defendant was the last person who saw the deceased alive” since “PW2 (Prosecution Witness 2), in his evidence, before the trial judge stated that he was called by the deceased, he saw the deceased and the deceased what was the problem.”

She added that Exhibit F, the statement of Sadiya Aminu, tendered before the trial court (who was initially charged as 4th defendant in the amended charge) also confirmed that the deceased was alive though when she saw him.

It was submitted that “the circumstantial evidence which the trial court relied upon in its application of the last seen doctrine does not lead to the conclusion that the defendant is responsible for the death of the deceased.”

Consequently, she prayed the Court of Appeal to allow her appeal, set aside her conviction and sentence imposed by Justice Halilu and acquit her.