A plea intended to drop murder charges against 15 men for allegedly shooting then Plantation Manager of the Liberia Agriculture Company (LAC), Michael Bruno, a Belgian national on November 17, 2007, was on Friday, March 21, denied by Judge Yussif D. Kaba of Criminal Court ‘A’ at the Temple of Justice.
Judge Kaba announced the murder trial would commence on Wednesday, March 26.
In their 15-count “Motion to Dismiss” and for “Acquittal of the Defendants,” the defence team argued that there existed no legal grounds to support the change of venue of the trial from the Second Judicial Circuit of Grand Bassa County to the First Judicial Circuit Criminal Court ‘A’ of Montserrado County.
However, prosecution argued that the court is legally impotent to review the ruling of a judge of concurrent jurisdiction ordering change of venue.
Especially considering that neither of the parties objected to that decision of Judge Benedict Holt.
In the court’s ruling, Judge Yussif D. Kaba declared, “This court first and foremost admits that it lacks the legal competence to sit as appellate court to review the act of a colleague of concurrent jurisdiction,” the ruling said, continuing, “This terrain is clearly spelt out under Section 41.7 of the Civil Procedure Law.”
Dwelling further on the motion, Judge Kaba noted, “The court observed the motion is void of any of the grounds stipulated there under to empower this court to review the action which is the subject of this issue.”
He suggested, “Had the trial judge disbanded the trial jury without the benefit of an investigation, this court would have been properly position to declare the voidness of the act of the judgment.”
“But, in this case,” Judge Kaba explained, “the Chief Justice is said to have provided the information requested for an investigation. The court conducted an investigation; the parties participated in the investigation; and the court found at the conclusion of the investigation that, indeed, there was evidence the jurors were tampered with and identified the source of such tampering.”
Judge Kaba wondered, “If this court does not have appellate jurisdiction over this matter, then under what authority will this court review the outcome of such proceedings?”
“Besides,” the Criminal Court Judge said, “the defendants themselves, in their motion, correctly stated the law when they claimed the ‘concept of manifest necessity,’ which is required in declaring a mistrial, if retrial is to be consistent with the double jeopardy clause, does not lend itself to a rigid application, and requires due regard for the facts and circumstances of each case.”
According to him, “The trial court must take all circumstances into account in deciding whether manifest necessity for declaring a mistrial exists, as would permit the state to retry the defendant without violating double jeopardy principles. This certainly establishes that it is the exercise of the sound discretion of the court that is invited under such circumstances.”
“This makes it clear a judge of concurrent jurisdiction is not clothed with the authority to review such an exercise of discretion by his colleague of concurrent jurisdiction,” he said.
“Therefore and in view of the foregoing, it is the considered ruling of this court that the defendants’ Motion to Dismiss the Case and to Acquit the Defendants of the charge same is hereby order denied and dismissed,” Judge Kaba concluded.
The case was first heard in 2008 at the Second Judicial Circuit Court in Grand Bassa County.
But, it was suspended and the jury panel disbanded by Judge Benedict Holt, claiming jury’s tempering allegation.
Judge Holt said, he received the allegation from then Chief Justice of Supreme Court of Liberia, Cllr. Johnnie N.N. Lewis.
According to him, the Chief Justice instructed him to stop further hearings in the matter and conduct an immediate investigation.
He claimed Cllr. Lewis informed him that he got the jury’s tempering message from a “higher up” source.
Based on that, Judge Holt took his decision and transferred the matter to another court; the First Judicial Circuit Criminal Court ‘A’ for Montserrado County.