It was a case that many thought had come at the wrong time. The preoccupation of Monrovians was the expulsion of the Ebola Virus that had invaded and ravaging the country and everywhere there were buckets of chlorine for hand-washing to fight the virus. Ebola was now the grim reaper and its victims were increasing by the day.
It was at this period that newspapers reported the robbery and murder of George Dean, a 26-year-old money changer, of Sinkor, a suburb of Monrovia. What gingered interest in the case was the arrest and confession of the alleged murderer as well as the fact that the famous trial lawyer Jason Doe had been hired by the defendant. So when the case opened, despite the Ebola fear in Monrovia, the courtroom was packed with many who were simply there to witness the renowned counselor’s classic cross-examination might put to the test. With a reported confession, many Monrovians felt that this could be the case that the famous Jason Doe could not crack at the preliminary trial. And after two weeks the witness, who many believed, had the trump card to send the defendant to face his doom would be cross-examined by Jason Doe.
Hundreds of spectators besieged seated at the courtroom in a case described by metropolitan newspapers as the ‘Case of the Murdered Money Changer.’
It was in the final moments of the day, and Jason Doe seemed exasperated by the witness’ frustrating tactics.
The lawyer regarded the witness for a moment, and frowned. "Sami Young is your friend?" he said, with a grin.
The witness said, with a mixture of nonchalant, "He was my friend before."
"Is that yes, or no?"
Shifting his position, the witness responded with apparent lack of affectation.
"On the 15th of July," the lawyer attempted a drive for the truth, "You claimed that you met the defendant at a secluded area on Bushrod Island?”
"Yes," he said, "and to be precise, it was near the St. Paul's Bridge."
"You testified that the defendant told you that he had a plan to get free money?"
"What was your response?"
"I did not think it was any wrong way to get money," the witness said, "and therefore I was prepared to go along."
"Until when did you begin to have second thoughts?"
"Until I learned that he was using the Ebola situation to steal money."
"But U$5,000.00 was found in your room?"
"It was planted there by someone."
"Who was that someone?"
"I wish I know."
"Is that your answer?"
"I can definitely say that it was the defendant."
“How did you know that since you are unable to give account of the U$5000.00 found concealed in your house?”
Suddenly, the prosecutor was on his feet.
“Your Honor,” Prosecutor Gilbert Solo said, “Counsel is trying to undermine the witness’ confidence as to how the money got to his room.
“Counsel’s intent is to weaken the witness resolution to stick to the truth and as a result he would extract dubious information from him.”
Judge Sackor turned her slightly bulging eyes back to the prosecutor.
“How is that true?”
“Counsel’s questions are too personal and I think he is being too dogmatic and unrealistic,” the prosecutor said.
The judge lowered her head and stared at the prosecutor over her glasses and said, “Should the court understand that the defense should not elicit information regarding how the money got to the witness’ apartment?”
“Not exactly, Your Honor,” Solo said, “but under the present circumstances and in such an intense cross-examination, counsel is being unfair.”
The judge said conversationally, “The Court is on top of the situation and therefore I stipulate that the defense will continue the cross-examination of the witness.”
“Thanks Your Honor,” the prosecutor said, bowing his head, as a bitter smile wedged at the corner of his mouth, for the blow resulting from the judge’s rebuke was not lost on the spectators, as a low but brief murmur of disapproval swept across the room.
With a triumphant sneer of victory, Jason Doe pushed forward.
"How did you know that the money was planted in your room, since you testified that you did not go along with the plan?"
“Since he wanted me to be the fall guy, he apparently did that to implicate me.”
"Robert Joe," Jason Doe said, with a noticeable anger in his voice, "Why would he connect you in particular? Why was it that when police officers bumped into the money after a tip off, you claimed that the U$5000.00 came from your sister in the United States?"
"Was the money from your sister?"
"The police did not let me tell the story my own way."
Judge Elizabeth Sackor relaxed her tense posture.
"Witness cannot eat his cake and have it and the Court is concerned with the witness’ apparent lack of what is going on in this courtroom and he must therefore not evade questions from the defense.”
Jason Doe then relaxed, and sweeping his eyes across the spectators, repeated the question.
"Was the money from your sister?"
Fidgeting with his hands, the witness answered, "No."
"Where did the money come from?"
"It was apparently planted by someone and the only person I can think of is the defendant."
"Why will he do that? Have you had a previous misunderstanding on anything?”
"Not really,” he said, “but these days Liberia is hard and people can do anything. May be he is envious of me.”
"How long have you known the defendant?”
"I have seen him around, counselor, and nowadays people are doing all kinds of wicked deeds against people they don’t even know.”
"Ok,” the lawyer considered his answer, “how does that fit in with the defendant, since in your own words, you have seen him around, suggesting that you don’t know each other. So where was the money found by the police?”
"In my room.”
Jason Doe’s face expressed some amusement at the witness' answer and then said, "The police found the money in your room, did they not?”
"Yes," the witness said, putting his bandaged right hand behind his back, "if that is what you are asking."
Jason Doe smiled but it was Judge Sackor who reacted.
"You want the court to believe that the defendant who was not found with any incriminating evidence was the brain behind the robbery and eventual murder of the money changer?"
The witness showed an apparent misunderstanding of the question and stared at the judge in the face.
Realizing his lack of response Jason Doe strolled to the defense table and after examining through some papers, returned to the witness.
"Mr. Joe," he said, "what happened to your bandaged right hand? Is not correct that you sustained an injury during the attack on the victim, as you masterminded the entire episode?
"Is it also not true that you have made several requests to the decedent to borrow an amount of money like the one found hidden in your room?”
The two questions were apparently unexpected and suddenly, beads of perspiration began to form on forehead. With his right bandaged hand still concealed behind him, he lifted his left hand and began to mop his face with the edge of his shirt’s sleeves.
Sensing the situation, the clerk rushed to him with a bunch of paper towels, and for the next couple of minutes the courtroom waited in suspense as the witness struggled to get the increasing amount of sweat off his face without success.
Judge Sackor decided to announce for ten minutes recess and invited both counsels to her chambers.
WHEN court resumed ten minutes later, Judge Sackor took over proceedings and summarized the conclusion of the case.
“The defense has shown that the witness knows more about the circumstances of the murder of the money changer than the man who is currently being accused.
“The apparent motive to the murder unfortunately was because the decedent was unprotected in his money changing business.
“It suggests to me that the practice of placing huge amount of money in various currencies in boots for exchange in the full glare of the general public needs to be discouraged.”
After brief hesitation, the judge continued, “The tragic consequence of the death of the money changer could be identified on the fact that the witness and some of his accomplices apparently chose to murder him simply to take away the money that he sat behind.
“In the wake of the foregoing, the Court is convinced that there is no probable case against the defendant in this case and he is therefore ordered released and the witness held for further investigation and subsequent trial.”
THIRTY minutes later they assembled at criminal lawyer Jason Doe’s Benson Street private office, where former defendant Sami Young, the lawyer, his private secretary Janet Lovebird and a retired police officer, George Jebor examined the circumstances of the case, after each had washed their hands with chlorine water, at the entrance of the lawyer’s office.
“Jason,” the retired officer said, “how did you know that the witness was the mastermind of the entire episode?”
The lawyer grinned.
“From the beginning of the case I was looking at the fact that my client had apparently joined the party to murder the victim for quick money.
“It was only when the witness said someone might have planted the money into his room that I realized I was not making use of his own admission.”
“But,” Janet Lovebird said, “was he really part of the murder party?”
Smiling, the lawyer replied, “Absolutely and he was in fact the man responsible for the murder and it was the reason he sustained a heavy cut to his right hand.
“Please remember that the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare announced that the current Ebola presence in the country has, among its symptoms, vomiting, and so what really happened was that the witness led his party to the venue where the decedent did his money exchange business around 5:30p.m on the fateful day.
“Due to an early afternoon rainfall many of the businesses in the area had packed for home leaving the decedent and few others, scattered about.
“When the party arrived the witness informed the victim that he wanted to change U$20, the money he did not even have on him, then all of a sudden the witness began to tremble, and began to vomit, after he had inserted his fingers into his own mouth.
“Afraid of the Ebola vomiting syndrome, the victim jumped up running and it was then that the witness and his party broke into the booth and they were making away with the money when the victim realized what was going on and chased after them.
“The victim was struck over the head and stabbed at least three times on his chest but in the melee, he struck the witness right hand with a club nearby.”
“What a dangerous way to steal money,” the retired officer said. “How did your client come to be part in the whole episode?”
The lawyer, smiling said, “That was the clever part.
“Two weeks after the incident, police intensified their investigations and someone somehow hinted them that the witness could be questioned.
“The reason was that he had, before the robbery, sort the help of a couple of people who refused to participate in his deal, so the day after the police talked to him, he visited my client, and explained a phony story about his sister sending him money from the United States.
“He had done that with a promise to offer my client U$5,000.00 but it was only when the death of the victim was announced that my client saw how dangerously close he had come to become part of such a dangerous plot.”
Janet said, “That was too dangerous.”
Smiling, Sami said, “It was foolish of me to have agreed to help him but I am thankful to God first and to Counselor Doe my innocence is proving.
“I never thought that some friends can be so dangerous, but now that I know it gives me a sense of preparedness to be more wary of such people in the future.”
The group burst out laughing, as Sami stood up and grabbed Counselor Doe’s hand and pumped it repeatedly. The evening weather felt cold and pleasant. A few scattered white tufts of cloud wandered across the blue sky.