Prosecutor James Sayon sauntered to the witness table and pawed through papers and in swift motion, turned and in three strides, stood in front of the witness and glared at the 35-year-old Dan Bowman of the Leaders Protective Force (LPP).
“You were at the venue for the celebration of the world freedom week?”
“You were chosen as the keynote speaker?”
“And by choosing you as the keynote speaker,” the prosecutor said, “it was because of the confidence that the media had in you?”
“Yes,” the witness said, fidgeting with his hands, and putting them on his back and then in front of him.
“You hold your job very much dear to you?”
“I am qualified for the job and I am accountable for my own actions. I will even arrest my mother if she poses a danger to my job and will not hesitate to use my power to show that I am the kind of person I am,” he said, as a murmur of disapproval swept through the courtroom, and Judge Willie Zotaa’s gavel struck twice to remind the audience of the importance of the case.
“There are many cases in the past that brought the honor of the Court into disrepute because of audience excitement and this Court cannot and will not lower its esteem on the trivialities of an excited audience,” Zotaa said, and calm was immediately restored.
“Mr. Bowman,” the prosecutor continued, “you believe in the freedom to speak your mind?”
“I believe in it.”
“And also the freedom of the press?”
“To some extent.”
“To what extent, do you believe in the freedom of the press?”
“To the extent that my integrity is not questioned.”
“Very well,” the prosecutor said, “you are paid by taxpayers’ money?”
“And taxpayers in this country expect you to do a particular job?”
“But you resent them to question your integrity and how you perform the job that they agreed to pay you?”
“They did not employ me.”
“But you are paid by their money?”
“You put it that way.”
“Is there any other way since their tax money pay you, Mr. Bowman?”
“I am not aware.”
The witness lowered his head and the prosecutor allowed the echo of his voice to sweep across the audience.
“When you were invited to speak at the gathering of media men and women at their own program, did you at first understand your responsibility?” the prosecutor began from another approach.
“I thought I did…”
Judge Zotaa interrupted.
“The witness cannot express what he thought. His answers must be factual and not sentimental.”
“Thank you, Your Honor,” the prosecutor said and directing his questions at the witness, said, “Did you know what you were expected to do at the gathering of the media men and women?”
“They were media men and I knew it was time for me to tell them my mind.”
“Which was not the reason you were invited to speak?”
“No, now I know.”
“But until then you had a distorted view of the responsibility that the members of the Fourth Estate entrusted into your hands, didn’t you?”
“I have a job to do,” he said deliberately, evading the question.
“And the job you had to day that day was to speak on a topic that had a theme of the freedom to speak our mind, without fear or favor?”
“I can accept that now.”
“You are not happy about the turn of events, with the imposition of a media blackout simply because an overzealous security man or to put it bluntly, an insolent watchman felt his self importance to shoot his mouth at a wrong forum, did you realize that?”
“All I wanted to do was to sound a word of caution.”
“And have you realized that your action to sound a word of caution was premature, the absolute silence of any of the leaders shows moral support to your wanton declaration of violence, even after one week and her final declaration of enjoying the blackout, the house and the senate’s silence have all contributed to the bad blood with the media, all starting because of you?”
“I am not the devil’s grandson.”
“Is it not exactly what you are now in the eyes of the men and women of the Fourth Estate?”
The witness did not respond, and the prosecutor went on.
“Is it not a fact that your action was premeditated with the intent to destroy the gains that our society has earned in the last seven years?”
The witness shifted in the witness stand, as the audience’s attention fixed on him.
“Mr. Bowman,” the prosecutor said, “is it not a fact that your action was deliberate and your intent was diabolical? Is not a fact that your motive showed you as a reckless advocate of violence?”
“I never could realize the implications.”
“You spent many years in the United States, earning excellent degrees in security and others but your action indicate that paper degrees are not enough because possessing them alone shows a deficiency in character and disrespect for the rule of law, isn’t it?”
“Objected to…” the defense counsel said.
“Overruled,” Judge Zotaa thundered from the bench.
The prosecutor repeated, “Isn’t that so?”
“I am an honest man,” the witness said, “but God knows my intentions are clean.”
“Do you appreciate the work of the media in the last several years?”
“But isn’t your threat against the members of the Fourth Estate demonstrating your blatant disregard for the rule of law?”
“It was a mere caution.”
“Wonderful, a mere caution with ‘I have my gun and they have their pen’ and you were not referring to toys, were you?”
His defense lawyer, Thomas Yuo was on his feet, objecting to the questions as improper and an attempt to browbeat his client but Judge Zotaa denied his objection.
“Overruled,” the judge said.
“You are a family man?” the prosecutor kept the pressure on.
“And under no condition will you refuse them the chance to express themselves?”
“And you agree in the rule of law?”
“That’s what the book says.”
“And yet, you advocated the breakdown of the rule of law?”
The witness coughed involuntarily. The prosecutor turned to Judge Zotaa and smiled.
Fifteen minutes later, Judge Zotaa held a conference with the counselors in his private chambers.
“Gentlemen,” he said, “it is probable that as far as the current case is concerned there was an element of an oversight in which the defendant can be held liable.
“Indeed, it is also reasonable to conclude that since Liberia is a country of laws and since we are strengthening institutions to uphold justice, there is no way anyone in high position could shoot his mouth as Dan Bowman admitted doing.
“Nonetheless, while there is a high degree of a man who did his job with over ambition the Court is aware of human weakness but is troubled that immediate response did not come from the President’s office,” Judge Zotaa said, Quoting a recent case PUL v. Presidential Guard, (Case No. S300147)
“The Court, therefore,” Judge Zotaa continued, “finds it interesting to encourage Liberians in authority, which will trickle down to the masses, to allow the laws of the land to dispense justice without resorting to the law of the jungle.
“And authorities must be swift in dispensing corrective measures to forestall the unnecessary escalation of a simple error in judgment as the court has eventually found out.”
The conclusion of this case was telling since the defense had earlier indicated that the defendant’s motive was purely against the backdrop of protesting the overwhelming abuse that the media in recent times have been enjoying with unbridled exposition of the ills of society and accusing others of wrong doing that were most often could not be verified.
“One is tempted to state here with emphasis that if a professional does not have the right to demonstrate his passion for his job,” defense counsel Thomas Yuo said, “then it makes it possible for many who hold a low opinion of others to win.”
Judge Zotaa countered Cllr. Yuo’s position and noted, “The Court takes exception to the opinion of the defense since, of course, it was brought out after a lengthy exposition that the defendant was invited by the same people he humiliated and therefore the inherent lesson, as far as there are many, includes the clarity of our own understanding of our responsibility as it relates with a public office.”
The argument about the defendant’s overzealousness and the resultant failure to accord those who called him to participate in that party and to do them justice became central in the local media.
Interestingly, the media held itself accountable for what happened in the end and while some of the members dissected the issue in a series of arguments, others chose to remain out of the public and to express their disgust to themselves.
The people on whose behalf the media professionals performed their duties were too much involved in the economic woes that prevailed to weigh in with their positions. In the end many of those who could not make a statement on the issue spoke through others, calling the contenders to let sleeping dogs lie.
“The adjudication of justice,” they said, “demands a conscious involvement of the parties in knowing or proving the right and wrong in an issue, which was brought out in this case.”