A dramatic change of heart by the defense team of four of the seven persons accused of duping the John F. Kennedy Medical Center of hundreds of thousands of United States dollars was enough yesterday for Judge Emery Paye to immediately suspend the jury selection exercise.
The parties, prosecutors and defense team had earlier agreed for Judge Paye to communicate with Chief Justice Francis Korkpor to make available funding and other facilities, so that, if they were successful in selecting the panel of jurors yesterday, they would have been immediately sequestrated in the basement of the Temple of Justice.
To the dismay of Judge Paye yesterday when the jurors were seated to commence their selection process, a member of the defense team, Cllr. Thompson Jargba, rejected the exercise.
Resisting the process, Cllr. Jargba who represents co-defendant Patrick Konuwah, the hospital’s accounts officer believed to be the master planner of the scheme, explained that if the panel were to be sequestrated, they would have been placed under the full control of the Ministry of Justice that is the prosecuting arm of government.
Each of the four defendants that challenged the allegation brought against them by the government hired a separate lawyer.
The remaining three defendants had earlier admitted their involvement into the act and also asked for forgiveness, which prosecutors and the court have already accepted.
Further to that Cllr. Jargba argued that “The sheriff that is assigned in this court is an employee of the ministry who takes instructions from his bosses. Even the police that would be entrusted to protect the jury are also employees of the ministry.”
As a result, Konuwah’s lawyers claimed that the jury would be tampered with to bring down what he considered as “dictated verdict,” against his client, arguing, “We would not have the time at night to check places where the police would be minding the sequestrated jury.”
Concluding his contention, Cllr. Jargba asked Judge Paye to rescind or withdraw his initial ruling to which he granted sequestration of the trial jury and order the selection of the panel.
In counter argument, prosecutors said that Cllr. Jargba had earlier waived his rights and cannot come back to cry foul and his action is a further violation of the law and therefore his request should be denied.
They further argued that sequestration of the jury is a legal requirement under the law, because the jurors should be kept together to afford them opportunity as the trial’s facts have unhindered deliberation about the matter.
Immediately after listening to the arguments, Judge Paye said, “The selection of the trial jury would be tabled.” He did not state when the selection process would resume.
However, Judge Paye assured the defense that there should be no fear as to whether or not the sequestrated jurors would be tampered with.
“The jury would be under the watchful eyes of the sheriff being guided by the court. As such, there should be no fear on each side regarding the jury sequestration during the hearing,” the Criminal Court judge said.
Judge Paye warned lawyers not to interfere with the trial jury and anyone caught would face the full weight of the court. “We are going to do everything in our power to promote the image of this court.”
The Court has been at the center of jury tampering allegations in recent times.
The most recent was during the trial of former National Port Authority Managing director Matilda Parker, when a piece of paper was intercepted from two bailiffs by police officers assigned with the jury panel.
The paper, the police said was addressed to the jury by Madam Parker’s lawyers, an allegation that was supported by two of the bailiffs directly assigned with the jury panel.
But the bailiffs, when they were interrogated by the court, accused the jury management team that is responsible to recruit jurors for possible selection, of issuing the letter to have it delivered to the jurors, an allegation which a member of the jury management team denied.