The appellant herein and one other were arraigned before the trial court on 29th October 2002 on a two-count charge of conspiracy to commit murder and murder of one Navy Captain Yetunde Peters contrary to sections 324 and 319 (1) of the Criminal Code Law of Lagos State. They both pleaded not guilty to each count of the charge.
At the conclusion of the trial both were found guilty as charged. They were sentenced to seven years imprisonment each for the count of conspiracy and were sentenced to death for the count of murder.
Being dissatisfied with the decision both accused persons appealed to the lower court. Their appeal was dismissed. The appellant who was the first appellant at the court below has further appealed to this court.
The prosecution’s case is that sometime in September 2009, the appellant, who was a driver to the deceased, conspired with one Olatinwo Nurudeen Bright (DW2) an estate agent, to murder and did murder the deceased, Navy Captain Yetunde Peters. The prosecution contended that the appellant and DW2 stabbed the deceased to death in her home in Ogudu GRA, Lagos State, wrapped her body in a rug, placed it in the boot of her car and dumped the body in the lagoon along the Adeniji Adele area of the Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos.
That after disposing of the body, the appellant and DW2 ransacked the house of the deceased and carted away valuables, including a certificate of occupancy in the name of the deceased. It was in the process of trying to dispose of the landed property covered by the C. of O. belonging to the deceased in the Lekki area of Lagos State that the appellant was apprehended. The appellant made an extra-judicial statement. After conducting a trial within trial, the trial court held that the statement was voluntarily made. It was accordingly admitted in evidence as Exhibit C.
Briefs of argument were duly filed and exchanged. The appellant formulated three issues for determination as follows:
1. Whether the trial and indeed the lower courts were both right in convicting and sentencing the appellant primarily on the uncorroborated and retracted confessional statement (Exh. C) of the appellant).
2. Whether the prosecution proved the necessary ingredient(s) of the offences of conspiracy and murder against the appellant beyond reasonable doubt as required by the law.
3. Whether the failure on the part of the prosecution to call vital witnesses to circumstantially link the appellant with the murder of the deceased did not amount to a gross miscarriage of justice.
Issue 1. It is contended on behalf of the appellant that from the extrajudicial statement made by PW1 and her oral testimony at the trial, the appellant was not at the scene of crime and PW1 never linked him to the commission of the offence. It was contended further that the evidence of PW2 to the effect that the appellant tried to dispose of deceased’s property does not amount to proof that he was linked to the crime.
Ade Ipaye Esq., Hon. Attorney General of Lagos State, who settled the respondent’s brief noted that the concurrent finding of the two lower courts is to the effect that that Exhibit C was voluntarily made. The two planks upon which Issue 1 is based are that the confessional statement, Exhibit C was not only uncorroborated but that it was retracted at the trial and therefore the lower court erred in placing reliance on it to affirm the appellant’s conviction and sentence. It has been reiterated by this court time and time again that retraction of a confessional statement does not automatically vitiate its admission as a voluntary statement. There can be no account of the commission of a crime more accurate than the account of an accused person narrating how the offence was committed and the role he played.
Once the statement is proved to have been voluntarily made and is a direct, unequivocal and clear admission that the accused person committed the offence, it is sufficient to sustain a conviction notwithstanding its subsequent retraction at the trial.
In the instant case, Exhibit C was admitted in evidence after the conduct of a trial within trial. The trial court found that the statement was voluntarily made. On appeal, the appellant and his co-accused challenged the admission of their confessional statements (exhibits C and D) by the trial court. In resolving the issue, the lower court held at pages 297 – 298 of the record:
“The fact that the accused persons decided to deny their confessional statements does not affect the decision of the court to draw whatever inference it discerns from the said statements. The learned trial judge took all the requisite procedural steps for the management of an allegation of inducement, threat or duress in the making of a confessional statement under investigation. A trial within trial was conducted. After the procedure the learned trial judge found that the statements were voluntarily made. It was the learned trial Judge who had an opportunity of a visual perception of the appellants as they each testified and responded to questions put to them. No compelling reason has been advanced for interfering with the decision of the trial judge. The said extra judicial statements therefore stand admitted as exhibits.”
I fully agree with the lower court in this regard. Although not mandatory, the courts, as a matter of practice, usually look for independent corroboration, outside the confessional statement, no matter how slight, that shows that the narration therein is probable.
In the instant case PW1 testified that the appellant and DW2 were the last to see the deceased alive. The appellant admitted this fact under cross-examination. PW2, an oil marketer testified that his neighbour, Christopher Oseghale, who testified as PW4, introduced the appellant to him sometime in October 1999 as Tunde Peters. He was informed that the said Tunde Peters lost his mother two years earlier.
That he wanted to travel abroad and needed to sell a plot of land belonging to his late mother to finance the trip. PW2 was shown a certificate of occupancy bearing the photograph of the late Navy Captain Yetunde Peters. PW2 expressed some reservations about the potential sale after visiting the land and being told by the security guard, upon his enquiry, that the appellant had visited the land with the deceased the previous month. This raised a red flag for him since the appellant’s representation to him was that his mother had died two years before. He testified that he asked the appellant to return in a month’s time, as he was to travel abroad. Coincidentally, upon his return, he happened to purchase a copy of the Punch newspaper on 20/11/99 (Exhibit A), where he noticed a news item about the missing navy captain. The item was accompanied by a photograph, which he recognised as being the same as the photograph on the certificate of occupancy presented
to him by the appellant a month earlier. He then reported the matter to the Police. This independent evidence corroborates the appellant’s narration of events as contained in Exhibit C, Again, I refer to the finding of the lower court at pages 303 – 304 of the record:
“I am of the humble view that a distinction must be drawn between the effect and use of a confessional statement which stands solo with nothing else to support it and one which actually corroborates other facts gathered independently of the accused persons. The situation in this appeal is the latter.
Blinded by their greed and totally unperturbed by their gruesome crime, the appellants sought to dispose of the properties of the deceased even before the dust of the disappearance of the deceased settled down…. Unsuspecting people of high integrity and responsive citizens of this nation took the action which led to the arrest of the appellants. Whatever they allege about their confessional statements is an afterthought; …A retraction of the statement will serve no useful purpose. Without the statement, the circumstances under which they were arrested are sufficiently implicating.
In this appeal, the C of O. which was found in possession of a total stranger who claims a relationship with the owner raises the presumption that he is either responsible for the disappearance of the deceased or he knows the person who caused the disappearance of the deceased. The two convicts said the owner of the C of O. is dead. They killed her and set about dispossessing (sic) of her property. Their words and conduct bind them.”
The finding of the lower court is unimpeachable. The appellant has not advanced any reason to warrant interference by this court.
PW5, the investigating police officer, testified that on 8/10/99 while at Panti C.I.D. Homicide section, Yaba, Lagos, he received a report that the deceased, Navy Captain Yetunde Peters, was missing; that her driver (the appellant) and her car were also missing. He left for Ketu Police Station where the matter was initially reported. The case file was handed over to him along with the appellant (who had been arrested based on the report of PW2 linking him with the attempt to sell the deceased’s property). He testified that the appellant told him he did not commit the offence alone and volunteered the information that led to the arrest of DW2 and exonerated PW 4 (Christopher Oseghale). He also testified that the appellant took the investigating team to the airport where he had parked the deceased’s car. Thereafter both accused persons took them to the spot along the Third Mainland Bridge at Adeniji Adele road where they dropped the deceased into the lagoon and described how she was killed. PW4 identified DW2 as the person who prevented her from entering the compound of the deceased on 24/9/1999. There is no doubt that there was sufficient evidence outside Exhibit C showing that the contents were true. It is significant that the confessional statement was made after the appellant and his co-accused returned to Panti Police Station after taking the investigating team to recover the deceased’s vehicle and after taking them to the spot where they dropped her body into the lagoon.
There are several factors that linked the appellant to the commission of the crime:
a. the attempt to sell the deceased’s property soon after her death;
b. presenting himself as the son of the deceased and informing the prospective buyer that his “mother” was dead;
c. the coincidence of the newspaper article which prompted PW2 to make a report to the Police;
d. investigation that led to the appellant’s arrest;
e. the appellant’s admission that he did not act alone, which led to the arrest of his co-accused; and finally,
f. Exhibit C, the appellant’s confessional statement, which tied the various parts of the story together.
In the circumstances of this case, the confessional statement of the appellant was sufficient to ground his convictions and sentences for the offences with which he was charged. I fully endorse the concurrent findings of fact made by the two lower courts. I agree entirely with my learned brother, M.D. Muhammad, JSC in the lead judgment that this appeal is devoid of merit. I accordingly dismiss it.
The convictions and sentences imposed on the appellant by the trial court and affirmed by the lower court are further affirmed.
Funke Agbor (Mrs) with A. A. Abdulhameed for the AG. Lagos. For Appellant
Ade Ipaye with Olabisi Ogungbesan DPD, Justine Jacos SSC and Akingbolahan Adewumi
Dear Esteemed reader,
As part of our drive to keep improving the content of our newspaper, we are conducting a readership survey to enable us serve you better.
Kindly take two minutes of your time to fill in this questionnaire.
Thank you for your time. Click here to begin