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General News of Thursday, 18 July 2019

Source: Graphic.com.gh

The Gregory Afoko trial - What are the issues?

As a journalist who reports from the law courts, I have refrained from running commentary on the Gregory Afoko case because of two reasons –the matter is still in court and whatever commentary could prejudice the case.

It is still the law courts which will ultimately decide the fate of Afoko.

Last Monday’s ruling by the Accra High Court to rescind a bail granted Afoko by another High Court has been met with widespread condemnation from the public, civil society groups and human rights activists.

The hashtag #JusticeForAfoko was one of the top trends on Twitter.

Afoko and one Asabke Alangdi are standing trial on charges of conspiracy to commit murder and murder for allegedly killing the Upper East Regional Chairman of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), Alhaji Adams Mahama, in 2015.

They have pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

I have been fortunate to have followed the Afoko issue since 2015. I have sat in courtrooms and reported on his trial on numerous occasions. As a result, I will present the facts I have gathered throughout the trial.

Why is Afoko on trial?

Alhaji Mahama suffered severe bodily injuries after a substance suspected to be acid was allegedly poured on him in front of his house in Bolgatanga on May 20, 2015.

He later died from the injuries at the Bolgatanga General Hospital.

Afoko was arrested and charged with the offence. Alangdi, however, went on the run.

After about a year of courtroom wrangling between prosecutors and defence lawyers, on February 23, 2016, the Accra Central District Court committed Afoko to stand trial at the Accra High Court.

Afoko was charged with conspiracy to commit murder and murder.

Trial

Even before the first prosecution witness was called to testify, family members of Alhaji Mahama, on April 19, 2016, petitioned the then Chief Justice, Justice Georgina Theodora Wood, asking for the presiding judge, Justice Lawrence L. Mensah, to recuse himself.

Among other things, the family had issues with the decision of the court to remand Afoko in police custody instead of prison custody.

The Chief Justice dismissed the petition on the basis that it was not one that could warrant the trial judge to recuse himself.

The prosecution, led by Mr Matthew Amponsah, a Chief State Attorney, alleged that before Alhaji Mahama gave up the ghost, he said it was Afoko and Alangdi who poured the suspected acid on him.

The prosecution called 14 witnesses, including the wife of Alhaji Adams Mahama, Hajia Zainabu Adams, to prove its case.

Afoko denied any involvement in the murder and pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

On January 26, 2019, Afoko closed his case after he and his brother, John Ishmael Afoko, had testified.

Subsequently, the presiding judge, Justice Mensah, directed the two parties to file their written addresses.

Nolle prosequi

On January, 28, 2019, however, the Attorney -General (A-G) filed a nolle prosequi to discontinue the trial following the arrest of the other suspect, Alangdi, who had been on the run since the incident occurred in 2015.

Afoko challenged the nolle prosequi by filing a case at the Supreme Court, but on June 19,2019, the apex court dismissed the case on the premise that Afoko failed to prove the nolle prosequi was capricious, unfair and arbitrary.

Bail

Lawyers for Afoko filed for bail at the Accra High Court, presided over by Justice George Buadi, with the arguments that their client deserved bail because the State was not ready to prosecute him.

Mr Osafo Buabeng, lead counsel for the accused person argued that the nolle prosequi by the A-G after more than three years of trial showed that the State was only interested in keeping his client in custody and not serious about the prosecution.

On March 14, 2019, Justice Buadi rejected the arguments by the A-G that Afoko was a flight risk, and admitted Afoko to bail in the sum of GH¢500,000 with two sureties, one of whom must be justified.

As part of the bail conditions, the court further ordered Afoko to report to the headquarters of the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) of the Ghana Police Service every two weeks.

Legal challenges

Dissatisfied, the A-G filed an appeal at the Court of Appeal and also filed for a stay of execution at the High Court pending the final determination of the appeal.

On March 22, 2019, Justice Buadi dismissed the application for stay of execution on the basis that the A-G could not prove any exceptional circumstance to convince the court to halt the bail.

The Court of Appeal also dismissed an application for stay of execution pending the appeal by the A-G.

The appeal is yet to be determined by the Court of Appeal.

Following the dismissal of the A-G’s moves to halt the execution of the bail, the family of Afoko made attempts to execute the bail, but they accused the police of refusing to release Afoko even though he had presented competent sureties and had met all the bail conditions.

Lawyers for Afoko, therefore, filed for contempt against the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mr David Asante Apeatu, the Director–General of the CID, COP Maame Tiwa Addo Danquah, and the case investigator for failing to release their client despite meeting all the bail conditions.

The lawyers further filed an application for habeas corpus for the IGP to produce their client.

The judge hearing the contempt case, Justice Jennifer Dodoo, on June 19, 2019, ordered the IGP and the other alleged contemnors to be present in the courtroom on July 3 for her to deliver her ruling on the contempt application.

On July 3, 2019, the IGP and the CID boss failed to show up in the courtroom. State Attorneys pleaded with the court that the two were out of the jurisdiction and would come back on July 6. The court, therefore, adjourned the ruling to July 22.

Bail rescinded

Meanwhile, while all the numerous legal challenges were ongoing, committal proceedings that will ensure a new trial of Afoko and Alangdi were also ongoing at the Accra Central District Court.

The court committed the two accused persons to stand trial at the High Court and on July 15, 2019, Afoko and Alangdi appeared before the High Court, presided over by Justice Merley Afua Wood, for a new trial to commence.

The High Court was about to adjourn the case to July 22 for a jury to be empanelled when the Prosecutor, Ms Marina Appiah Opare, a Chief State Attorney, informed the court that she had an oral application seeking the court to rescind Afoko’s bail.

Basically, the prosecutor argued that the bail should be rescinded because Afoko was a flight risk, and also the reason by which the other High Court granted him bail, which was that the State was not ready to prosecute him, had changed.

It was her contention that the A-G discontinued the previous trial of the accused person following the arrest of Alangdi, who had been on the run for more than four years, and that since that time, the A-G had expeditiously carried out the committal proceedings which had led to the commencement of a new trial.

Lawyer for Afoko, Mr Stephen Sorwah Charway, opposed the application and argued that since his client was granted bail on March 14, 2019, the State had used all means possible to keep him in detention.

On the issue of Afoko absconding, he argued that the court imposed stringent measures to ensure that his client would not run away from the law.

Justice Afua Wood, who is a Justice of the Court of Appeal, sitting as an additional High Court judge, upheld the argument of the prosecution and rescinded the bail.