(Continued from July 20 Issue)
JUDGE MARTINA Yuo was aware of the importance of the case and had a definite understanding of her position in the trial. She entered the courtroom with a triumphant air of judicial honor and settled in her chair. The case was one of interest to the Logan Town community, for the decedent Clinton Dahn, until his death was a man who made huge contributions to the town’s development.
Judge Yuo was noted for her respect for time and by 8:30 in mid-November morning, she signaled District Attorney William Jarboh to get on with the case. Prosecutor Lt. Samson Swen lifted himself from his chair and strolled to examine Col. Jackson Payne of the Homicide Department.
“Lt. Payne,” Lt. Swen said, “on the evening of October 15, you were called to the residence of the late Clinton Dahn, what was the occasion?”
“The call came just after 6 pm and I was first to arrive in Logan Town residence of philanthropist Clinton Dahn.
“The house is located on an isolated plot of land near the popular Logan Town Broad Street, and there were a number of people gathered outside.
“When I entered the house, which was unlocked, I found the decedent wedged in a chair. I checked his pulse and there was no life.”
“Did you visit the house alone, Col. Payne?”
“Who was with you, Colonel?”
“Captain Dorothy Sumo and Col. Mohammed Kamara of the Homicide Department were with me.”
“What did you find?”
“Our investigation discovered that the decedent’s last contact was defendant Ephraim Sackor who had visited the house, two hours previously.”
“Did you get to know the reason of the defendant’s visit?”
“What was it, Colonel?”
“A Promissory Note, containing the amount of US$30,000 was firmly held in the hands of the decedent.”
“What was on the content of the note and do you have it on you?”
“It said defendant Ephraim Sackor would honor the payment of US$30,000 and that the money was loaned towards his interest to win the presidency of the Media Union, whose elections coincided with the week of his murder.
“It said in brief with two signatures, that fingerprint experts at the Department have confirmed to be that of the decedent and the second is that of the defendant.
“And yes I have the note.” The officer pulled from his left breast pocket, a carefully wrapped single sheet, and handed it over to Lt. Swen, who smiled and swept his eyes across the courtroom.
The prosecutor said, “This can be accepted as Exhibit A.”
Defendant Ephraim Sackor sat with his chin up and his hands folded across his chest. He seemed to take the revelation with a posture of innocence.
On the other side, away from the packed spectators, was the family of the decedent. Widow Elizabeth Dahn, who occasionally mopped her face with a handkerchief, her eyes bloodshot with tears, and to her immediate left sat three of her six children, along with other family members.
The prosecutor’s deliberate action stirred the courtroom to action and engaged spectators’ interest. On the other hand, Defense Counsel Jason Doe sat thoughtfully at his table and looked directly at the officer in the dock.
His mind was apparently engaged in other things when he heard Prosecutor Lt. Swen say, “What else did you find Colonel Payne?”
“We found out that the late Clinton Dahn had loaned the money to the defendant and the money was to be paid that very day.
“However, defendant Ephraim Sackor lost the Media Union election, an election that he evidently pumped in much of the money which angered him to distraction.
“Hence it became clear to the defendant that he had not much money to pay back as promised and aware of how much money was involved, and aware also of the poor health of the decedent, the defendant nevertheless visited the victim and bluntly told him he was unable to repay the money.”
“From your investigations,” Prosecutor Lt. Samson Swen continued, “did it reveal that with the amount involved, and with the victim’s poor health, defendant Ephraim Sackor, responsible for the death?”
“It was evident from our investigations, which was corroborated by the toxicologist report by Doctor Albert Akorsah of the National Toxicologist Center that the manner in which defendant Ephraim Sackor delivered the message was so unexpected that it played significantly to affect the decedent.”
The prosecutor allowed the last statement to sink into the minds of the spectators, and it attracted the attention of Judge Yuo, who leaned forward on her table but since the defense remained silence on the approach, she did not pursue her position.
“Colonel Payne,” the prosecutor said, “how did you get to the defendant?” The question was so direct that the officer adjusted his position in the dock before answering, “After our investigations were concluded, the most likely suspect was the man whose name was found written on the promise found in the decedent’s hands.”
“And that name was the defendant Ephraim Sackor who is present in this courtroom?”
“Yes,” the officer admitted, directing his eyes to the defendant and in so doing carried along those of the spectators, and he added “so a warrant was subsequently issued for his arrest. Meanwhile, the house of the decedent was searched and sealed and the family was advised to relocate till investigations were completed.”
“How did you get to the defendant, Colonel Payne?”
“It was after a week of the murder, and a week after the elections of the Press Union of Liberia held elections for new leaders and a week of an unsuccessful attempt to locate the defendant. A visit to his residence on the outskirts of Tweh Farm did not find him and his wife Cecelia Sackor, who was very cooperative, informed police that her husband had suffered a breakdown after he lost the elections.”
“Did she help the police to locate her husband?”
“Initially the police did not reveal our intent to Mrs. Sackor for fear that the information could reach him before we got to him.
“Evidently, Mrs. Sackor had found out about the huge money her husband had reportedly borrowed for the Elections and was also aware that her husband was angry at some of his friends who let him down in the end.
“Therefore, she was convinced of the mental negative reaction that her husband had told her he was going through. But when she later got the information of the police search for her husband, she told the police someone had framed her husband.”
“How then did the police get hold of the defendant?”
Colonel Payne turned to the defense table, and said, “It was during the evening, one week after the warrant was issued when Counselor Jason Doe telephoned District Attorney William Jarboh with information on the whereabouts of the defendant.”
“As far as you are concerned, Colonel Payne,” the prosecutor said, “can you testify to this court that Counselor Doe acted cooperatively with the police?”
“Yes,” Colonel Payne said, “I went along with the DA when Counselor Doe telephoned.”
“Was there any resistance from the defendant?”
“Did Cllr. Doe put up some conditions to the police before or after he broke the news that the defendant, who he had kept away from justice, was with him?”
The officer turned to look at the defense table and nodded.
“Well, he asked for unhindered access to his client as one of the conditions, and did not deny the police access to the defendant.”
The prosecutor lifted his chin and thumped his nose at Counselor Doe.
“Your witness,” he said.
Judge Yuo would not allow any confrontation in her courtroom and following the prosecutor’s action, she said “I think the prosecutor has indicated by some actions his contempt for Cllr. Doe and this Court takes serious exception to the legal shadow boxing that the prosecutor seems to enjoy and will now stipulate that there will be no such insinuation to interrupt the orderly proceedings in this Court.”
“Thank you, Your Honor,” the prosecutor said, and moving away towards his table, lifted his finger to Counselor Doe.
Judge Yuo, aware of the tension in the courtroom indicated her readiness to act, henceforth. Counselor Doe, making an attempt to initiate his cross-examination, stole a glance at the huge wall-clock directly opposite the judge, forcing the judge to follow his lead.
Judge Yuo realized what was happening, for the morning session had come to a close and therefore she said, “Gentlemen, it is almost noon and I am going to adjourn the case to be resumed at 2 pm,” and climaxed it with a bang of her gavel.
THE TENSION that concluded the morning session was discernible when the afternoon session began. Judge Martina Yuo leaned forward on her bench and said, “Counselor Doe will begin his cross-examination of Officer Jackson Payne,” and then relaxed in her chair. She followed it up by dropping her glasses in front of her and it made a slight echo.
Jason Doe, tall and agile, shifted himself and strolled leisurely towards Officer Payne in the witness stand. The lawyer smiled momentarily like a boxer about to pounce on his enemy. There was a nagging sense of confidence discernible in his demeanor.
“Col. Payne,” Counselor Doe said, “Ephraim Sackor was one of the candidates for the president in the recent Press Union of Liberia’s elections?”
“And he lost his bid for the presidency and reports indicated that he was meanwhile referred to as the angry candidate by his colleagues who did not live up to his expectation?”
The lawyer made a swift retreat to his table and in that moment met the eyes of defendant Ephraim Sackor, whose gaze filled him with uncertainty.
The lawyer shrugged his shoulders and marched towards the witness. In his unusual baritone, Cllr. Doe said, “Ephraim Sackor, your investigations concluded, and this was from his wife that he had a mental breakdown?”
“Did you verify that statement from a professional psychiatrist?”
“Mrs. Sackor is not a professional psychiatrist, is she?”
The lawyer frowned thoughtfully.
“How then did you agree with her ‘opinion’ that Ephraim Sackor suffered a mental breakdown after he lost the PUL Elections?”
The witness gave a deep breath and said, “Mrs. Sackor knows her husband better than anybody else. She did not demonstrate any hatred towards him and therefore her observation seemed probable.
“Additionally, she was keenly involved in the PUL Elections and after her husband’s loss she spent considerable time with him and was in the best position to make an opinion of fact. It, therefore, seemed right to believe her.”
Jason Doe frowned again, and turning to Judge Martina Yuo, said, “It is true she is the wife of the defendant but at the same time she is not a professional in the field of psychiatrist to accurately diagnose the mental state of a man who is facing murder charges and you accepted her opinion as a fact, Col. Payne?”
Col. Payne readjusted himself in the witness stand, for it seemed the question had jolted him. He shrugged his shoulders in an attempt to rise above the shock and said, “Mrs. Sackor, I must admit, is not a psychiatrist and neither is she with the authority to point out her husband’s mental state, but her closeness with him, as a husband and additionally she did not have any ulterior motive and that gave us the assurance that she was speaking of fact.”
“So then,” Jason Doe said, “you were investigating a case, involving the death of a citizen of much influence, and you surprisingly based a statement of fact which a man’s life hangs on, on the opinion of an unprofessional?” Suddenly, Prosecutor Samson Swen was on his feet.
“The opinion of the defendant’s wife is one aspect to develop the case, Counselor.”
“You’re right,” Jason Doe retorted, “but in a case that demands without reasonable doubt, it makes a whole lot of sense to base the conclusion on a professional psychiatrist after a thorough examination?”
Judge Yuo weighed in the case and responded, “The Court does not expect the prosecutor to intervene in the defense counsel’s trend of cross examination, bringing out an apparent source that is not an authority on a man whose life hangs in a balance, as to whether he contributed to the death of the decedent.
“The Court is much interested in professional sources that could bear much on the case and hence Counselor Doe has the Court’s support to bring out an apparent error of assigning an authority to an opinion of a spouse who in a greater measure should be siding with her husband.”
“Thank you, Your Honor,” Prosecutor Swen said, “I was trying to point out that the woman’s honest opinion should not unnecessarily delay the case.”
“Very well,” Judge Yuo said and glaring at the prosecutor noted. “Since the prosecutor agrees with the defense’s position, it is therefore not necessary for any intervention.”
“Thank you, Your Honor,” the prosecutor conceded, and the negative blow of his position could not be lost on the spectators, but Jason Doe, in a triumphant response, said, “Ephraim Sackor visited the victim two hours before he died?”
“And the toxicologist report indicated that his death came two hours after the defendant’s visit?”
“Referring to the Promissory Note, which you testified in Court; when was the defendant expected to pay his loan?”
“It was on October 15.”
“Was a particularly time specified in the Promissory Note?”
“Therefore,” Jason Doe said, “the defendant was not supposed to visit the decedent on October 15?”
“Yes,” Officer Payne said, “and his visit was to be accompanied with the money.”
“Did the Promissory Note make any specific indication about his visit without the money?”
“It did not state the way you put it but his visit evidently should have been accompanied with the money,” Officer Payne retorted, a bit irritably.
“But,” the lawyer said with an amount of interest, “it did not state that he must not visit the lender unless he had the money.”
“It did not state in that clear terms but it was obvious.”
A mild laughter swept through the courtroom and Jason Doe allowed the echo to fill the air.
“The decedent, Clinton Dahn was an elderly man?”
“How elderly, Officer Payne?”
“He was in his 50s.”
“And how did you know that he was in poor health…”
Suddenly, all attention turned to the corner of the courtroom where the widow, Comfort Dahn, and other family members sat, displaying a suppressed emotion.
“The Clinton Dahn suffered from high blood pressure.”
“Was he under any strict instructions regarding the use of medicines prescribed for him?”
“It’s obvious. His prescribed medications were Thiazide Diuretics and Beta Blockers.”
“Thiazide Diuretics,” the lawyer said, and after some hesitation said, “yes these kinds of drugs are sometimes called ‘water pills’ and they act on kidneys to help the body eliminate sodium and water, reducing blood volume. During your investigations did it occur to you that the efficient administration of these drugs required the presence of someone to supervise their administration?”
The officer strained his eyes and pretended he was recollecting what transpired and said, “We were assured that dosage was administered by his widow Comfort Dahn.”
“Who gave the assurance, officer?”
“His widow, Comfort Dahn.”
“Therefore,” Jason Doe said, “when you returned to the house on October 27th you did not observe anything that raised your suspicion about the possible cause of death?”
Col. Payne seemed confused and after hesitating briefly, said, “It did not seem anything much at the time but now that you are asking about it, let me explain she violated police instructions by cleaning up the house.”
The lawyer walked to the defense table and looked through some papers and returning to the witness said, “What was her reaction when one of the officers confronted her?”
“She mumbled that she did not mean to kill her husband and we thought her reaction was due to the shock of his death.”
“And did that move you to investigate that angle, officer?” Officer Payne was considering the question when an echo of tears broke out at the corner where the widow Comfort Dahn was mumbling to herself.
The courtroom was taken aback as her hysteria increased. Bailiffs and several police officers rushed to the scene.
Meanwhile, the widow informed the officers that she wanted to make some issues clear about the death of her husband. The information was communicated to Judge Yuo who advised and warned her that she did not have to increase her discomfort by making any incriminating statements.
Her insistence was so strong that she was sworn in, and she positioned herself to clear the air, as a witness for the prosecution. Her face was that of a woman whose world had come to the end with an action she did not mean to execute. In the dock, she straightened up, squeezed her lips together and stared into the air as if she was seeking some intervention.
Her hands trembled and she grabbed the edges of the witness stand. When she began to speak, it was in a well-modulated tone which took the courtroom by surprise.
“Clinton’s death,” she said, fighting back tears, “was not by that man.”
A hush swept through the courtroom, and seconds later, she resumed and kept her composure intact.
“I did not mean to have caused his death. When I learned that Clinton had given such huge amount to somebody, I thought the recipient was a woman.
“So I went to him after I had collected all his medications and threatened that either he confessed the name of the woman who he had given the money to or I would not give them to him.”
The silence in the courtroom was deafening and even a drop of a pin could have been heard. Judge Yuo sat, relaxed in her bench as her ears received the shocking revelations.
Jason Doe, who did not seem to all surprised, was already seated at the defense table, with his ears straining, his eyes glinted with a frown on his face.
After a couple of seconds, the widow continued, solemnly, “I did not mean to cause his death but when I realized what I had done, it was too late to save him.”
As the witness, once again, hesitated, Judge Martina Yuo signaled the defense and the prosecution to a whispered conference.
A few seconds later, Judge Yuo announced the release of defendant Ephraim Sackor from further detention and ordered the widow held for the murder of her husband.