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Maryam Sanda, a woman found guilty of stabbing her husband to death, has asked the Court of Appeal in Abuja to set aside the death sentence pronounced on her.

PREMIUM TIMES reported how on January 27, Justice Yusuf Halilu of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court found Ms Sanda guilty of killing her husband.

Ms Sanda stabbed her husband with a kitchen knife with a clear intent to kill, Mr Halilu concluded in the judgment, after a two-count homicide charge was brought by the Nigerian police against Ms Sanda in November 2017.

The victim, Bilyaminu Bello, was the son of a former national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Haliru Bello.

The prosecuting counsel had urged the court to pronounce a death penalty on Ms Sanda. The judge obliged by sentencing the convict to death by hanging.

While many perceived the judgment of Justice Halilu as ‘harsh’, others believe it is well deserved.

Maryam’s appeal

In her appeal against the death sentence, Ms Sanda claimed that Mr Halilu was biased and he denied her fair hearing.

She contended that the conviction was based on circumstantial evidence, without evidence of witnesses, lack of confessional statement, absence of murder weapon, lack of corroboration of evidence by two witnesses and lack of autopsy report to determine the true cause of her husband’s death.

In the notice of appeal predicated on 20 grounds and filed by her lawyer, Rickey Tarfa, the convict said the judgment of the trial court was a complete “a miscarriage of justice.”

According to Ms Sanda, “the trial judge erred in law when having taken arguments on her preliminary objection to the validity of the charge on the 19th of March, 2018 failed to rule on it at the conclusion of the trial or at any other time.

She said that “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 a fair hearing of the defendant.”

The appellant also 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).

The appellant was referring to a statement made by the judge in his ruling.

Justice Halilu had said that, “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 made “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.

“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,” the convict argued.

Ms Sanda argued that “the court’s 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.”

The appellant also argued that “the trial judge erred in law and misdirected himself on the facts when he applied the doctrine of last seen and held 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.”

“There is no evidence before the trial judge that the defendant was the last person who saw the deceased alive since prosecution witness in his evidence before the trial judge stated that he was called by the deceased, he saw the deceased and asked the deceased what was the problem,” she said.

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

“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,” she argued.

Consequently, she asked the appellate court to allow her appeal, set aside her conviction and the sentence imposed by the high court judge and acquit her.

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