The Supreme Court has affirmed the judgment of Associate Justice Jamesetta Wolokollie ordering the disbandment of the jury for former National Port Authority (NPA) Managing Director Matilda Parker, setting the stage for a new trial on charges that she allegedly robbed the government of US$837,950.
A five-judge panel rejected the decision by then-Judge Blamo Dixon of Criminal Court ‘C’ where the case was first heard to refuse to disband the jury after the prosecution raised an allegation about jury tampering.
“We hold the writ of certiorari will lie in the instant case to correct the prejudicial and revisable errors committed by the trial judge, especially his refusal to disband the entire jury panel,” Chief Justice Francis Saye Korkpor wrote for the court.
“We affirm the ruling of our colleague, Justice Wolokollie in ordering the disbandment of the entire panel of trial jury,” Justice Korkpor said.
“The case is hereby remained to the lower court with instruction to resume jurisdiction, impanel a new jury and start the trial anew.”
According to Justice Korkpor, Justice Wolokollie who first heard and decided the case, while she was serving as Justice in Chamber did not participate in the hearing before the court and she also did not sign the judgment as normally done by the five justices.
This current ruling means that a new judge of Criminal Court will set a new date for the resumption of the Parker case.
Parker and her comptroller Christina Paeley were on trial before Dixon and a jury in 2015, on an indictment charging them with economic sabotage, criminal conspiracy, and theft of property stemming from an investigation of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), in which the defendants allegedly duped government of US$837,950.
Parker and Paeley pleaded not guilty and remained free on bond.
Their prosecution followed the LACC’s report alleging that they made payment of over US$800,000 to a purported company, Demeah Martin Flomo to have won lucrative dredging, security training and uniforms contacts for several ports including the Greenville Port in Sinoe County.
The prosecution initially dropped charges against Flomo, the alleged mastermind of the contract, to testify in their favor.
In their request to the Supreme Court, the prosecution argued that when they raised the jury tampering claim, Judge Dixon suspended the case but, he did not conduct a proper investigation into the allegations as required by law.
The prosecution also claimed that the jury tampering resulted from series of letters written by the defendants to the jurors, which communication was intercepted by police officers assigned at the Temple of Justice, where the jurors were empaneled.
The letter was allegedly addressed to Kissi Kamara, foreman of the jury, Melvin Teah and Kebbeh Kollie; but, it did not reach the jurors, the prosecution said.
The Supreme Court, however, said the content of the letter clearly suggests that there had been prior contacts and or communications between the writers and the named jurors.
“That taking the contents of all the letters together, the logical conclusion is that the contacts had been made with the three jurors in question in order that they infiltrated and influenced other members of the jury as to what verdict to bring in the main case of economic sabotage, theft of property and criminal conspiracy,” Justice Korkpor indicated.
“It was, therefore, a reversible error for the trial judge to have removed from the jury panel only the three jurors implicated in the complaint of jury tampering rather than disbanding the entire jury in the face of clear indications that the rest of the sequestered jurors might have been compromised,” he said.
“This court has held that the misconduct or disqualification of one or more jurors of a character which threatens to frustrate justice will justify the court in discharging the panel of jury and a discharge under such circumstances will not sustain a subsequent plea of double jeopardy,” the justice emphasized.