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Whether the court can convict for murder in absence of a corpus delicti (dead body)

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THE STATE v. ALI AHMED (2020) LPELR-49497 (SC)
In the Supreme Court of Nigeria
On Friday, 24th January, 2020
Suit No: SC.511/2016

Before Their Lordships:

OLUKAYODE ARIWOOLA, JSC
KUDIRAT MOTONMORI OLATOKUNBO KEKERE-EKUN, JSC
AMINA ADAMU AUGIE, JSC
PAUL ADAMU GALUMJE, JSC
UWANI MUSA ABBA AJI, JSC

Between
THE STATE -Appellant(s)

And

ALI AHMED – Respondent(s)
LEAD JUDGMENT DELIVERED BY OLUKAYODE ARIWOOLA, J.S.C.
FACTS OF THE CASE
Ishiaku Abdulrazaq (PW 1), a barber was in his barbing shop sometime in December 2009 when Ali Ahmed (respondent) came to his shop to barb his hair. The respondent then informed PW 1 of an event that was disturbing his conscience. He then told him that he had fought with someone by the riverside of old water dam and that he had stabbed the boy with his knife. The respondent admitted that he knew the boy and PW 1 agreed to follow him to the family of the boy he stabbed, to take him to the hospital for treatment, but the respondent refused and left the shop that day.

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However, sometime in January 2010, PW 1 was arrested by the members of vigilante group in connection with an alleged stolen electricity generating set, which was given to him to keep. In the course of his interrogation, he was asked if he knew the respondent, who had told them that he had being one of those who killed the deceased. He later led the vigilante men to arrest respondent, who later told them that he alone stabbed the deceased. The respondent was arrested and handed over to the police who obtained his statement. PW2 was one Sergeant Usman Abubakar with Force No.20055, then serving at the State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID), Minna. He was detailed to obtain Ali Ahmed respondent’s statement which was tendered and admitted without objection and was marked exhibit 1. PW3 was one Suleiman Badaru, the Secretary of Suleja Emirate Civil Security Corps. He was in their office when a case was reported of someone who was killed by the riverside. He had gone with the office Camera and took pictures of the corpse when he and some policemen visited the scene. The pictures he had taken were admitted without objection and were marked as exhibits 2B and 2C respectively.

The respondent was arraigned in the High Court of Niger State, sitting at Suleja and he was charged with the offence of culpable homicide, contrary to Section 221 of the Penal Code. Upon the reading of the charge, Ali Ahmed (respondent) pleaded not guilty and the case proceeded to trial. The prosecution called three witnesses – PW1, PW2 and PW3 to prove its case, while the respondent testified in defence but called no other witness. The case of the respondent before the trial Court was a total denial of the knowledge of the deceased. He denied knowing the deceased or ever making any statement to the police on the death of the deceased. He however admitted the signature on the statement to be his own. In a reserved judgment, the trial Court found the respondent guilty as charged. He was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging.

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Being dissatisfied with the judgment of the trial court, the respondent appealed to the Court of Appeal, Abuja division upon three grounds of appeal. In its unanimous decision, the Court of Appeal allowed the appeal by the respondent and the judgment of the trial court, which convicted and sentenced Ali Ahmed respondent, was set aside. He was accordingly acquitted and discharged. The State (appellant) felt dissatisfied and appealed to the Supreme Court.

ISSUES FOR DETERMINATION
The court determined the appeal on a sole issue as follows: “Whether the prosecution proved its case against the respondent beyond reasonable doubt.”

APPELLANT SUBMISSION
The learned appellant’s counsel contended that the Court of Appeal upturned the judgment of the trial Court on the ground that the prosecution did not prove the identity of the deceased in the pictures tendered as exhibits 2b and 2c as the person the respondent stabbed to death. Learned counsel contended that the findings of the Court of Appeal could not be supported by the evidence before the court on record. He referred to the testimony of PW1 and PW3, which showed that a person was killed by the respondent through stabbing at Kantoma Riverside in Suleja. He referred to the photographs of the corpse of the victim later identified as Mohammed Bello showing the stab wounds which fit into the description of the injuries the respondent earlier confessed to have inflicted on the boy.

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Learned counsel submitted that even though the corpse of the deceased was not physically produced and there was no medical report, the photographs of the corpse of the deceased showed conclusively that he died of the stab wounds inflicted on him by the respondent. He relied on Onwumere Vs. The State (1991) 22 NSCC (Pt.1) 606 at 621; (1991) LPELR-2723 (SC) on non-production of medical evidence. Learned counsel submitted that in the instant case, the absence of medical report as to cause of death of the deceased was not fatal to the burden of proof beyond reasonable doubt and the guilt of the respondent by the prosecution.

He contended that the failure of the family members to testify and identify the corpse of the deceased was not fatal to the case of the prosecution, as the photographs of the deceased spoke louder than viva voce evidence of the members of his family. He relied on Enewoh Vs. State (1989) 5 NWLR (Pt. 119) 98 at 108; (1989) LPELR-20260 (CA) per Uwaifo, J.C.A. (as he then was). Learned counsel submitted further that even if the person who had identified the corpse of the deceased as Mohammed Bello to PW3 before he took the photographs of the corpse was not called to testify, such omission was not fatal to the case of the prosecution.

On whether there was conflict in the evidence adduced and relied on by the prosecution, learned counsel submitted that there was no conflict in the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses. He referred to the testimonies of PW1 and PW3 and the confessional statement of the respondent. He contended that PW3 was not cross-examined on his testimony as to when he took the pictures of the corpse of the deceased, which fit into the description of the stab wounds the respondent confessed he had inflicted on the victims he fought with at the Kantoma River in Suleja. Learned counsel submitted that the discrepancy in the dates was not fatal to the prosecution‘s case to warrant the setting aside of the conviction and sentence of the respondent. He submitted that the prosecution proved its case against the respondent and urged the court to so hold. He further urged the court to set aside the judgment of the court below and restore the conviction and sentence of the respondent by the trial court.

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RESPONDENT SUBMISSION
Learned counsel for the respondent referred to the testimonies of the three PWs – PW1, PW2 and PW3 and contended that the issue is whether the prosecution proved all the ingredients of the alleged crime of culpable homicide. He gave the ingredients and contended that it is clear that the deceased, that is the victim of the homicide, must be identified or ascertained with clarity. He relied on Princewill Vs. The State (1994) 6 NWLR (Pt.353) 703 at 715; (1994) LPELR-2926 (SC). Learned counsel contended further that the prosecution did not prove the identity of the deceased. Learned counsel contended that from exhibit 1, which was admitted as a confessional statement of the respondent, no name was given of the deceased, who was said to have been fought with by the respondent. Learned counsel further contended that in the testimony of PW1, the name of the deceased victim with whom the respondent was said to have confessed that he fought was not given in court, but that the only person who gave the name of the deceased was PW3 who is not a relation of the deceased victim. He stated that there was no evidence whatsoever of any relation of the deceased victim that testified in court that it was Mohammed Bello that was in exhibits 2(a)-(g). Learned counsel contended further that as no one with certainty positively identified the deceased to PW3 when he took the pictures of the corpse as that of Mohammed Bello, he submitted that the identity of the deceased was not proved by the prosecution.

Learned counsel further alluded to the judgment of the Court of Appeal on the testimonies of PW2 and PW3 and the alleged confessional statement of the respondent where three different dates were mentioned by the prosecution. He submitted that the variation or contradiction in the dates is fatal to the prosecution’s case and that the confessional statement of the respondent did not prove the crucial ingredient of the time the crime took place vis-a-vis the evidence on the issue as to when the crime took place in the evidence of PW3.

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He submitted further that that made exhibit 1 – the alleged confessional statement of the respondent to fall short of the test that it has to be direct, positive and unequivocal so as to prove all the essential ingredients of the crime. He relied on Abasi Vs. The State (1992) 23 NSCC (Pt.111) 159 at 174; (1992) LPELR-20 (SC). Learned counsel submitted that the prosecution did not prove the case against the respondent beyond reasonable doubt hence he urged the court to dismiss the appeal and affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeal which set aside the conviction and sentence of the respondent.

RESOLUTION OF ISSUES
Determining the sole issue, the court defined homicide and culpable homicide. The court went further to state that for the prosecution to secure conviction in a charge of culpable homicide punishable with death, under the Penal Code, the following ingredients must be established:- (a) That the death of a human being has actually taken place; (b) That the death resulted from the act of the accused and; (c) That the act was done with the intention of causing death, or that the accused did not care whether the death of the deceased will result from his act. See: Durwode Vs. State (2000) 15 NWLR (Pt.691) 467 at 487; (2000) LPELR-973 (SC).

The court specifically stated again that all the above ingredients of the offence must be proved together and that failure to prove anyone of them means failure of the charge itself. See: Haruna Alhaji Galadima Vs. The State (2017) LPELR-43469 (SC).

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The court noted that from the evidence adduced by the prosecution on the record, it is clear that the death of a human being actually took place. That the death resulted from the act of stabbing of the deceased by the respondent. And that the act was done by the respondent without caring whether the death of the deceased would result from his act. Also in the statement of the respondent, he had agreed that he actually fought with the deceased by the side of the river and he stabbed him with his furniture knife on his armpit. The trial court had found that the pictures of the deceased showed that he was stabbed on his armpit as claimed by the respondent in his statement to the police.

From the available evidence proffered by the prosecution, the court held that there is no doubt that the identity of the deceased – Mohammed Bello who was fought with by the respondent was proved by the prosecution.
On whether there was conflict in the dates referred to in the evidence of the prosecution, the court stated that it is settled law that for any conflict or contradiction in the evidence of prosecution witnesses to be fatal to the case, the conflict or contradiction must be fundamental to the main issues in question before the court. The court further stressed that it is not in all cases where there are discrepancies or contradictions in the prosecution’s case that these are fatal to its case. It is only when the discrepancies or contradictions are on a material issue or issues in the prosecution’s case which create some doubt in the mind of the trial Judge that the accused is entitled to benefit therefrom.

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The court held that conflict in the dates proffered by the prosecution is not substantial or material to the main issue of the case and thereof not fundamental as to adversely affect the case. In the instant case, the trial court was right to have relied on the confessional statement of the respondent to convict him for the offence charged. The prosecution indeed proved the case beyond reasonable doubt and the trial court was correct in convicting and sentencing the respondent.

HELD
In the final analysis, the court held that the appeal succeeds and it was allowed. The judgment of the trial court which convicted the respondent and sentenced him to death was restored and the judgment of the Court of Appeal was set aside. The respondent’s acquittal and discharge order was reversed.

Appearances:
Omar Musa, Esq. with him, Munir Yakubu, Esq. -For Appellant
Akin Adewale, Esq. with him Mercy Omanijo, Esq. – For Respondent
Compiled by LawPavilion

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