The echoes of ceiling and standing fans intruded into my mind as Judge Samson Jlue adjusted himself at the bench while his haunting eyes gazed at me. Unsure of what to say, I blinked twice—and then several more afterwards. My mild smile faded and I felt perspiration forming on my forehead.
“I regret to say that you are a dangerous man,” Judge Jlue said, adjusting his glasses on his nose. “James Boward, it is your actions, as far as the court is concerned, that make you a dangerous man and therefore,” the judge hesitated, and stared at me, “you deserve to die.” My stomach churned inside as my heart beat involuntary. My eyes felt heavy, because I could not understand the message readily well and my senses were fuzzy, for it was clear that I was a condemned man.
Seated beside me was my defense counsel, Emmanuel Jajay who had been with me through the one month that the case lasted. Now it was clear to me that I, James Boward, a former traveler, who had roamed across West Africa, and had visited at least two countries in the east in search of the Golden Fleece, Kenya and Tanzania included, was now a condemned man, as far as the judge had declared.
My blurry eyes felt heavy, and I grimaced to clear the vapor that made seeing difficult but I could only sweep my eyes across the courtroom to meet with eyes that stared me back, in mock emptiness.
Then I heard the judge, his voice more powerful that what he had used earlier to announce my death sentence, “The judicial system is established in our society to give those who are blatantly hurt justice, and those who have lost their lives through brutal means a sense of justice.
“I wanted to give you another chance,” he continued and then hesitated, and I lifted my head to meet his gaze, with a bitter grin on my face. The courtroom remained quiet and family members of my late wife, sat across from me, with their eyes shooting through me.
“Rebecca Boward was a lovely woman, a woman whose love and care for you met resistance that ended in her murder,” Judge Jlue said.
Looking at me directly, he said, “I have no other alternative but to send you to meet your maker,” and he lifted a white handkerchief and mopped his forehead.
My former wife Rebecca Boward’s lifeless body was found on February 2, 2014, one mile from our resident on Bushrod Island, Monrovia. I had not been able to find a job since I returned to Liberia from my personal adventures across the countries I mentioned earlier, after four years absence. Mrs. Boward was only twenty nine and we had two children, a boy and a girl who we adored very much.
My wife had secured a loan from a local bank on Bushrod Island in Monrovia and had begun to trade in items that were in vogue and needed by young women, those women of fashion. She further traveled to neighboring countries, including Sierra Leone, Cot d’Ivoire, Guinea, Togo and Ghana six months after the loan of U$10,000 was received, and through her efforts, the family was doing fine. When the elections of 2005 came along, I had just returned from my aimless journey and after the loan was received, and profits began to flow into the family, I was able to measure arm with my colleagues in our community.
Though residing in a poor community, often times referred to as ‘slum’ I did not realize that the more we were successful and money was no longer a worry to feed and clothe my family, and the more we helped neighbors who always came for help, the more we were making enemies.
Without much thinking on that level, I became friendly to friends in the community and it was not too long when our problems began.
I had earlier told the court during the trial that I loved Rebecca Boward so much that I did not have any reason to murder her. The night of her death, I had gone with friends to have a drink at a local drinking spot. I did not really know what happened to me, till I was awoken in the morning three miles outside the club by police officers, who later informed me that I was a suspect of the death of Mrs. Rebecca Broward, since as her husband, I was the first suspect or person of interest. You could imagine my shock and desperation especially so when my natural reaction to the violent death of my wife was termed by the prosecutor as an act to throw police away for a crime they claimed I had committed, though they could not prove any motive I had beyond reasonable doubt.
What shocked me was the evidence that at least three witnesses, all my former friends, testified that I had confided in them to murder my wife, and “make another journey like what I did before with the money she had made, that she had refused for me to have for the alleged journey.”
What shocked me further was also the evidence about my finger prints that were found on a supposed murder weapon that police claimed they found beside the remains of the decedent.
Here I was, a condemned man and it was apparent that my wife’s family and even my own children would not forgive me.
Judge Jlue’s judgment against me was painful but my only disappointment was that neither the defense counsel nor the judge gave me a chance to examine in profound detail my cry of innocence.
Now, the judge seemed to relish on the final sentence that would send me, he said to meet my maker, to get justice for the decedent.
“James Boward, you deserve to be buried by your action against a poor woman who gave you two beautiful children.
“Since you did not care about her life, this court, with deep appreciation sentence you to die by hanging so that you can feel the pain of the life you destroyed.
“May the good Lord have mercy upon you, and if there is a chance to return to the world of the living and in this particular country, you may, if your sense of humanity returns, regard human life as the most important, a worthy gift that no human being has the right to take away from another,” Judge Jlue concluded.
Right away, three bailiffs rushed towards me and I could hear the echoes of silent tears of my former wife’s family, including her parents and her younger sister, who had resided with us, and who again had violently testified about how much love I had for them as a father to the Boward’s family.
Meanwhile, the judge offered me a chance to speak to the family whose daughter he said “you had barbarously destroyed” in her prime.
A microphone was brought closer to my mouth and with tears washing my chest with tears; I failed on three occasions to speak. But when I finally found my voice, the personal agony, my suffering for being away from my late wife for the last four years during travails abroad, came to me and I was like a child, whose mother was lost, as my dear Rebecca was.
“I find it difficult,” I said, my teary eyes directly at my in-laws, “that I am called upon to apologize to you when my heart is bleeding for the death and murder of the only woman who loved me without question since those responsible for her murder, are still out there to hurt others again.
“My heart bleeds for Rebecca, and like you and my two young children, I am without the one whose love and care made me to know the meaning of a good wife.” I hesitated to recollect my thoughts and since I was already a condemned man, I could only tell how I felt about the murder.
I could hear the echoes and murmurings and tears from the spectators, and it was apparent that at least some of them believed that I was an innocent man, but due to bad police work, I had been condemned.
“I’m as confused as you about the reasons that Rebecca died and since the law has condemned me, since you and everyone here believed that I killed the woman who made me who I am today, I am telling you from the bottom of my heart to forgive me.
“Rebecca’s death and the plot that brought me into it could be because of some of my past sins and therefore I want to plead to all of you to forgive me…” my voice broke and I could not continue anymore.
But surprisingly, the judge was not done with me yet, and he waited for me to regain my composure.
“Perhaps I did many wrongs that I am paying for today, and since I am sentenced to die, I am requesting all of you, particularly those who believe in my innocence to pray for me, and this is a request I am making from the bottom of my heart.” The reaction was natural and at one point I saw the judge wipe a tear that threatened to betray his stubbornness not to weep.
Turning to a corner where my two children stood, my daughter, that poor girl, who was daddy’s girl, lifted her head and when our eyes met said, “Daddy I love you,” and it was enough for the rest of the audience as many of the people broke down in tears.
Fighting back tears, I shouted between regret and disappointment, “Sweetheart I think I failed you as a dad. I always wanted to see you grow as a woman of purpose but daddy cannot do it, forgive me.”
By now there was no one in the courtroom whose eyes were not filled with tears. They were not weeping, as far as I was concerned, because they believed I was guilty, they were shedding tears because of what seemed like a bleak future that my two innocent children would face when I was finally put to death.
“I don’t blame you for your order for me to die;” I told the judge, “for the preciousness of life dictates that anyone who takes another’s life, his life too should not belong to him. But the only difference is that I would be put to death when I did not kill the woman of my life.”
“Thank you all,” I said, and lowered my body slowly onto the seat. Two bailiffs began to move towards my direction, and I instinctively stole a glance at my defense counsel, whose smile was that of disappointment. Suddenly, my daughter’s body surged forward, and crashed to the ground, and I yelled, “Please help my daughter, she’s fainted.”