Two of the four men tried for the 2012 murder of a general’s daughter, Cynthia Osokogu, are to pay the supreme price for the offence.
Okwumo Echezona Nwabufo and his nephew Olisaeloka Ezike are to die by hanging, Justice Olabisi Akinlade of the Lagos High Court said yesterday.
Justice Akinlade found them guilty of drugging, chaining and strangling Osokogu, who was a Nasarawa State University post-graduate student, to death at Cosmilla Hotel, Festac Town, Lagos, on July 22, 2012.
Orji Osita, 37, and Ezike Nonso, 29, were discharged and acquitted of the charge of recklessness, negligence and possession of stolen goods.
Osita, a pharmacist, had been accused of supplying Nwabufo with Rophynol, a sedative which was allegedly used on the deceased, without a prescription.
While Nonso was accused of buying her stolen Blackberry phones from Ezike.
Nwabufo, 37, Ezike, 27, Osita and Nonso were arraigned on February 8, 2013, on a six-count charge of conspiracy, murder, stealing, recklessness, negligence and possession of stolen goods.
They pleaded not guilty.
Delivering her judgment which began at 10:53am and ended at about 3:20pm, Justice Akinlade held that the state had proved the counts of conspiracy, murder and stealing beyond reasonable doubt.
She held that with its 10 witnesses and 17 exhibits, the prosecution’s case against Nwabufo and Ezike was uncontroverted and that the circumstantial evidence brought by the state was “cogent, complete, unequivocal and compelling.”
But the judge resolved in Osita and Nonso’s favour, doubts in the prosecution’s evidence against them.
Relying on the witnesses’ testimonies, Nwabufor’s and Ezike’s confessional statements and the circumstantial evidence, Justice Akinlade said: “The court has no doubt that the first and second defendants killed the deceased and if there are contradictions in their case, they are minor contradictions.”
Before passing judgment, the judge asked the defendants if they had anything to say.
Their counsel, Victor Okpara and Emeka Eze pleaded for mercy. Okpara added that Nwabufo was a first time offender who has “tremendous energy to do something worthwhile with his life. I urge this court to grant him a reformative sentence.”
In her response, Justice Akinlade said: “I have listened to the plea of counsel (allocutus). Section 221 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State says clearly that a person who commits murder shall be sentenced to death.
“In judgment, justice is required not only for the victim, but also for the society. In their attempt to steal Cynthia’s property, the first and second defendants stole her life. They were not even remorseful. But for the efforts of the police and the Ministry of Justice we wouldn’t have been able to do anything. This court cannot change the law.”
She sentenced Nwabufo and Ezike to 14 years imprisonment for stealing on the first count and three years imprisonment on the two counts of conspiracy to steal and commit murder.
On the second count of murder, Justice Akinlade said: “I pronounce the sentence of this court upon you, Okwumo Echezona Nwabufo and Olisaeloka Ezike, that both of you be hanged by the neck until you are dead and may God have mercy on your souls.”
In reaching its decision, the court considered, among others, whether the prosecution proved that there was a murder, the cause of death and whether it was the defendant’s actions that led to Osokogu’s death.
The prosecution, the judge said, not only proved beyond reasonable doubts that the deceased died, it also showed that she did not die a natural death and that her death was the direct result of the first two defendants’ action.
She said the witnesses’ testimonies were corroborated by the exhibits, which included the first convict’s laptop containing nude pictures of the deceased and those of other victims.
Nwabufo, who disowned his confessional statement in court, stated that the deceased was his fiancée, adding that he did not know how she died.
He said: “The late Cynthia was my girlfriend; we were close as the way lovers are before they get married.
“I promised her that I would marry her and she accepted but told me it is still early that I should wait till Christmas when I would visit her parents in Delta State.”
But the court held, among others, that his failure to provide basic information about the deceased, such as her hometown, her university and course of study, the date he proposed to her and the fact that he had never met or spoken to her family, suggested that his answers were contrived.
Reading from Nwabufo’s and Ezike’s disowned confessional statements, which were admitted after a trial-within-trial, the judge said it was immaterial whether they intended to kill the deceased or not, because they could be taken to intend the natural consequences of their action.
On Ezike’s statement, the court said: “There is ample evidence that he participated in the crime. He assisted in tying down the deceased. He bought the chain with which the deceased was chained. He acted in concert with the defendant. In such a case, it does not matter who did what.”