Eleven of 14 persons accused of murdering Michael Bruno, a Belgian national, appeared at Criminal Court ‘C’ at the Temple of Justice for the first time on Wednesday, March 25, to proceed with their murder trial.
The trial had not taken place on schedule because the defendant's lawyers presented a request, asking Judge Yussif Kaba to reconsider his earlier ruling where he denied a motion to dismiss and acquittal of the defendants; ruling the case to trial on Wednesday.
However, when the defendants appeared at the court only eleven of them were seen seated in the dock of the courtroom, after submitting the motion, they were placed in the care of some prominent citizens of Grand Bassa County, including Representative Baron Brown and Cllr. Charles W. Brumskine, a 2011 presidential aspirant for the opposition Liberty Party (LP). Cllr. Brumskine and Rep. Brown have been the men’s guarantors since 2008.
The reason for the absence of the three defendants was that two had already been set free by government, apparently to serve as some of prosecution witnesses; and the other one is dead.
The defendants were linked to an ambush where a single barrel gunshot was used to kill then Plantation manager of the Liberia Agriculture Company (LAC), Michael Bruno on November 17, 2007 in District# 3 Grand Bassa County.
The attack, according to LAC, took place immediately after Bruno’s decision to expand the company’s operations beyond the district.
In the Motion for “Reconsideration of Judge Kaba’s Ruling” a copy of which is in the possession of the Daily Observer, the lawyers prayed the judge to order the restoration of all the defendants rights that were previously theirs as provided by law in the interest of transparent justice and fair play and to uphold the Constitution and laws of Liberia.
They argued that Judge Kaba’s action to deny their request was contrary to the constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy, where the defendants were twice exposed to trial for the same offense without showing by the prosecution of manifest necessary to warrant a second trial of the defendants.
They further argued that Judge Kaba inadvertently held that he cannot overrule his colleague, Judge Benedict Holt, since both of them have concurrent jurisdiction.
Cllr. Holt then presiding Judge of the Second Judicial Circuit Court in Grand Bassa County, conducted the trial in 2008 and transferred the case to the First Judicial Circuit Criminal Court ‘A’ for Montserrado County, following allegation of jury tempering.
He also disbanded the jury panel and ordered a new trial.
But, the defense team said the “issue that was before Judge Kaba was whether or not double jeopardy had been attached as a result of the first trial?”
“If the answer is yes,” they admitted, “which it is, then as a matter of law, Judge Kaba cannot preside over the second criminal trial of the defendants.”
The defense team continued, “except for manifest necessary, which did not exist and which Your Honor did not show in the ruling.”
According to them, Judge Kaba does not have the legal right to overrule or review Judge Benedict Holt’s decision, “and can’t try the defendants for the second time unless there was manifest necessary.”
“When one trial judge declares a mis-trial in a criminal case and disbands the trial jury, a subsequent trial judge of concurrent jurisdiction may not determine that he cannot conduct a second criminal trial on the grounds of double jeopardy,” the lawyers said in the motion.
“During the trial, where the prosecution improperly terminated the case; the defendant cannot thereafter be indicted or otherwise charged and tried for the same offense of any degree,” they added. “Judge Kaba is without the legal competence to consider the constitutional issue of the defendants’ right to effective counsel, as provided in Article 21 (b) of the 1986 revised constitution. Therefore; he should have allowed the matter to be transferred to the Supreme Court of Liberia for determination of the said issue.”
The motion further explained that since Judge Kaba admitted that he is without the legal competence to pass on constitutional issue of double jeopardy as provided in Article 21 (b) of the constitution, “because doing so would be tantamount to reviewing the act of his colleague, he should have had the matter transferred to the Supreme Court for determination of the said constitutional issue.”
Ruling in the motion is scheduled for Today, Thursday, March 27.