Justice Nagbe vs Judge Chenoweth: which Way the S/Court Goes Today?
Two separate controversial judgments delivered by both Associate Justice Joseph Nagbe and Judge Mardea Chenoweth of the 13th Judicial Circuit Court in Kakata, Margibi County in the release of murder suspect Oliver Dillon, brother of Montserrado County Senator Darius Dillon, are expected to be heard today, Friday, June 5, before the Full Bench of the Supreme Court for determination.
Oliver Dillon, who is the Coordinator for Decentralization at the Ministry of Transport (MoT), was charged with murder by the Liberia National Police (LNP) after he allegedly stabbed to death Emmanuel Kofa on April 12, 2019 in the Gardnersville Supermarket Community.
Oliver had admitted to the commission of killing his victim Kofa in self-defense because, according to him, Kofa and a group of his followers attacked him in the area. He alleged that Kofa and two other guys had tried to rob him around 12:00 a.m. and that the area in which he allegedly stabbed Kofa is considered a criminal area where he has been robbed before.
The case before the Full Bench resulted when state prosecutors challenged in a Bill of Information filed with the Supreme Court that Judge Chenoweth’s judgment granting bail to Oliver Dillon was in complete disregard to Justice Nagbe’s earlier judgment that denied Dillon.
Judge Chenoweth is also expected to be present at the Friday’s hearing to justify her action admitting Dillon to bail.
Justifying her decision, Chenoweth said state lawyers on numerous occasions chose to boycott the hearing without any justifiable reason, which action continued to keep defendant Dillon in prison in Kakata.
Justice Nagbe got involved with the case when the state prosecutors filed a Writ of Certiorari against then-Judge Roosevelt Willie of Criminal Court ‘A’ at the Temple of Justice, which Justice Nagbe granted.
The writ is an order of a higher court to a lower court to send all the documents in a case to it so the higher court can review the lower court’s decision.
Judge Willie had earlier granted defendant Dillon bail because according to him(Willie), “the country’s laws as enshrined in the Criminal Procedure Law Section 13.1 titled: ‘The Right to Bail’ subtitled ‘Criminal Offenses’ states that a person in custody for a commission of capital offense before conviction must be entitled to the right to bail unless the presumption is not great and evidently proven.”
He added, “A bail is not intended to free a Defendant but rather it enables the Defendant to be out of prison and come to court whenever he/she is needed, as in this case or any case where the proof is not evident and the presumption not great, an accused can be placed on bail.”
In admitting Dillon to bail, Judge Willie said, “Dillon should file the appropriate bond as defined by law, bring five eminent persons from his community with their photos and places of residence to be ascertained by the Sheriff of the court in case where they have to stand as sureties for the Defendant.”
Judge Willie by then ordered that defendant Dillon, while on bail will report to the Sheriff office three times a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 11:00 to sign the attendance sheet; however, the Judge stated that failure on the part of Defendant Dillon to abide by these guidelines will leave the court with no alternative but to declare him as ‘bail jumping,’ and he will be arrested and re-incarcerated.
Unfortunately, that order did not materialize when the state prosecutors filed the petition of certiorari asking Associate Justice Nagbe to review Judge Willie’s decision to grant the bail.
Justice Nagbe’s action led Judge Willie to recuse himself from the entire matter.
While recusing himself, Willie said, “The court cannot change its view that the elements for murder were not present [in the case]. The critical elements of murder which are premeditation and malice afford thought did not exist in the case.”
That recusal necessitated the government’s lawyers to ask for transfer of the matter to the 13th Judicial Circuit Court, in Kakata, Margibi County, which decision again they have rejected and are now seeking the intervention of the Full Bench of the Supreme Court.
Defending his action, Justice Nagbe then said that Judge Willie was in error and he ignored Criminal Procedure Law Section 13.1 titled, the ‘Right to Bail’ subtitled ‘Criminal Offenses’.
Chapter 13, section 13.1 – Right to Bail “Capital offenses” states that a person in custody for the commission of a capital offense shall, before conviction, be entitled as of right to be admitted to bail unless the proof is evident or presumption great that he is guilty of the offense.
The section furthers, on the hearing of an application for admission to bail made before indictment by a person in custody for the commission of a capital offense, the burden of showing that proof is evident or the presumption great that he is guilty of the offense is on the Republic.
After indictment for such an offense, the burden is on the defendant to show that the proof is evident or the presumption not great. After a conviction for a capital offense, no person shall be continued at large on bail or be admitted to bail except in accordance with the provision of paragraph three (Illness of defendant) of the section, these were Justice Nagbe’s reliance.
Justice Nagbe said state prosecutors provided evidence on the murder charge and Judge Willie should not have granted the motion to bail.
These are issues the Full Bench is expected to hear and make an informed determination.
According to the indictment, Dillon who usually parks his car on the premises of Jetty Trading Company in Gardnersville, was attacked along with his fiancée by robbers on two separate occasions. On the night of the alleged murder, Dillon apparently realized he had forgotten his reading glasses and mobile phone in his parked car. He then left for the area where he parked his car to retrieve the items, taking a knife for his safety.
The indictment further states that there were three men near the parking area, including the victim. One of those men was also carrying a pair of scissors with him. Observing the men have some evil intent, Oliver Dillon took his knife and stabbed Kofa during a scuffle.