Two persons convicted and sentenced to death by hanging for allegedly raping and strangulating a 13 –year- old girl, Angel Togba, to death were on Friday, August 15, set free by the Supreme Court of Liberia.
The High Court action, according to Chief Justice Francis Korkpor, was based on the prosecutors’ failure to produce sufficient evidence to support their indictment drawn against the defendants, Hans Williams and Mardea Paykue.
Chief Justice Korkpor also went on to explain that the lower court in its judgment, had ignored said lack of evidence and convicted the defendants of the crime murder.
Criminal Court ‘B’ on March 19, 2010, found both Williams and Paykue guilty of murdering the Angel Togba and sentenced them to death by hanging.
Little Angel was a relative of Paykue and until her death, had lived with the couple as a foster daughter.
In the indictment, defendant Hans Williams was accused of sexually abusing the 13-year-old girl while his wife was accused of strangulating Angel to death after she (Mardea) had discovered the sexual relationship between her husband and Angel.
But, reversing the lower court decision, on Friday, August 15, when he delivered the final opinion of the March 2014 Term of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Korkpor stated “Even though the state produced 10 witnesses and five rebuttal witnesses, none of the witnesses linked anyone to the commission of the crime.”
He continued, “They contradicted themselves when they testified during the trial.”
In addition, Chief Justice Korkpor said, “none of the witnesses could identify which one of the defendants sexually abused Togba or who strangulated her to death, or who hung her. The court was in error to convict the defendants based on the insufficient evidences produced by prosecutors’ witnesses,” the Supreme Court head asserted.
He went on to say that, “They did not produce a DNA test report to the court to link any of the defendants to the commission of the crime.”
According to Liberian law, the Chief Justice argued, “a person can be convicted, if there is sufficient evidence produced during a trial, but in the instance case, prosecutors failed to produce the evidence to convict them of the crime.
“Therefore, the ruling of the lower court is hereby reversed and the defendants are hereby immediately released from detention at the Monrovia Central Prison. All of their rights are hereby restored,” Chief Justice Korkpor ordered.
Delving into the details of the case, the Chief Justice quoted the government witness as saying that “after Togba’s body was discovered, the State instituted a team of Liberian police investigators to investigate her death.
“The investigators stated that their findings could not give any clue to link anyone to the crime,” he maintained.
“Therefore, they, in consultation with Dr. Anthony Quaye, a Liberian medical doctor who also conducted an autopsy on the body of Angel Togba, concluded that Angel committed suicide,” the Supreme Court boss further quoted prosecutors witnesses.
The state disregarded the report of the first investigative team from the LNP and commissioned a second investigation, according to the Chief Justice.
“The second team was made up of Ghanaian homicide investigators from the Ghana Police Service who came along with a Cuban pathologist from the Police Hospital in Accra. The team, in consultation with the Cuban pathologist, concluded that Angel was strangulated to death.”
According to them, “after thoroughly investigating the crime scene and taking the measurement of the alleged crime scene into consideration relative to the height of Angel, there was no way Angel could have hung herself.”
Dr. Quaye testified in open court, according to the Chief Justice, “that even though his autopsy report stated that Angel died of suicide, he had been coerced by LNP officers to make that report.”
He told the court that he knew Angel had died of asphyxia secondary to strangulation, the Chief said.
A team of American pathologists were also invited from Nebraska Institute of Forensic Sciences in the United States of America (USA) by the defendants in 2008 to conduct autopsy on the remains of Angel Togba, according to Chief Justice Korkpor.
“The American team, after their autopsy, concluded that Angel died of suicide. Dr. Thomas L. Bennett, a member of the team who testified to his findings, told the court that Angel died by non-total suspension.”
He said, Dr. Bennett told the court that one could commit suicide even by lying on the floor.
“Dr. Bennett said for strangulation to be determined, there should be a breakage in the hyoid bone which is located in the neck of every human being. He further stated that the hyoid bone does not break in the case of suicide.”
According to Dr. Bennett, none of the previous pathologists made mention of the hyoid bone in their reports but concluded that Angel died of asphyxia secondary to strangulation.
He disclosed that his team located the hyoid bone and took a microscopic look at it and realized that it was not broken, which indicated that Angel was not strangulated.
The Chief Justice also said “The state however produced a rebuttal witness, Dr. Rituallo, a Philippino pathologist and head of the JFK Pathology Department, and a professor of Pathology at the University of Liberia.
According to Dr. Rituallo, even though he did not conduct any autopsy on the remains of Angel Togba, he was given photos taken during previous autopsies of the deceased by the prosecution counsel for review.
The JFK pathologist concluded that after a careful review of some of the photos, he could establish that Angel did not hang herself, according to the Chief Justice.
He said, Dr. Rituallo, agreed with Dr. Bennett that the hyoid bone is often broken during strangulation, but, according to him, that is very uncommon in children.
Hans Williams and Mardea Paykou were arrested in January 2008 by the Liberia National Police (LNP), after the death of 13-year-old Angel Togba, a relative of Mardea and who until her death, lived with the couple as a foster daughter.
According to Defendants Hans Williams and Mardea Paykou, they discovered the body of Angel hanging from the curtain rail in their guest bathroom in November 2007, in the Old Road Community.
They tried all they could to resuscitate her before rushing her to John F. Kennedy (JFK) Medical Center, but Angel was pronounced Dead on Arrival.