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LAC & CO murder trial: A Postscript

September 15, 2016 By Patrick Jaiah Kamara

The death of popular Disc Jockey Henry David Sydney Buckle, a.k.a. DJ Clef, ignited a huge public debate in Freetown in 2015, at the height of the Ebola scourge. His supposed decomposed corpse was found abandoned at the Murray Town-Macauley Street cemetery on 25 May, 2015 before it was swiftly taken to Pa Loko, Waterloo, where an Ebola cemetery had been created, for burial.

The deceased got missing after attending a birthday party organised by Avril Orehdola Renner at the residence of Mbaimba Moiforay alias LAC on 22 May, 2015.

The first group to have mobilised a search for the late DJ Clef after he went missing the night he attended a birthday party were members of the ALL STARS, who visited every nook and cranny of Aberdeen until they were told that an unknown corpse had been collected by the Ebola burial team.

The group latter released a video tribute song in solidarity with their demised colleague.

The investigation started at the Aberdeen police station and subsequently transferred to the Criminal Investigations Department headquarters.

Apart from charges that have to do with conspiracy and murder, many were expecting the police to have charged the accused persons with the violation of Health Emergency Regulation at the time.

LAC and Oreh Renner were subsequently charged to court on two counts of conspiracy to murder and murder, while a warrant was published for Foday Amara Kamara, who was later arrested in Kono district.

The preliminary investigations into the matter started at the Freetown Magistrates’ Court No.1, presided over by then Magistrate Komba Kamanda (he is now a Judge).

The accused were represented by Lawyer O.V. Robin-Mason and Associates, while Lawyer Monfred Momoh Sesay, AIG Morie Lengor and team represented the State.

After the testimony of Cyprus-based Sierra Leonean footballer, Sahr David Morsay, and two other witnesses, lead State Counsel Monfred Sesay, who is now a Judge of the Appeal Court, applied for the matter to be terminated at the Magistrate Court and committed to the High Court for speedy trial, pursuant to section 136 of the Criminal Procedure Act 1965.

In the High Court, Justice Abdulai Hamid Charm started the trial with a 12-man jury before he was made Chief Justice of Sierra Leone; Justice Alusine Sesay took over the matter.

The matter was not speedily tried as the prosecution and the court had wanted it to because some jurors empaneled to look into the matter were not forthcoming to court.

Several times the judge had to prematurely adjourn the matter because of the absence of jurors. The absence of a single juror would cause the matter to be adjourned. During the cause of trial, the judge even threatened to send some jurors to jail for their unjustifiable absence.

On 7th June, 2016 when it was expected that the prosecution should close their case, four jurors were absent. The judge told their foreman, Tejan George, to contact the absentee jurors and ensure they make themselves available in court on the next adjourned date.

“The trial is almost coming to an end and the jurors have started absenting themselves. The prosecution was supposed to have closed its case today, but how they could,” Justice Sesay quizzed.

To prove his case, Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) Sulaiman A. Bah summoned 17 witnesses and deposited 26 exhibits, including a yellow rope which was allegedly used to tie the feet of the deceased, a brown car cover, brown, black and white carpets, call logs of the three accused persons, and video clips of the abandoned corpse, among others.

The case of the prosecution was based on circumstantial evidence as none of their seventeen witnesses said they saw any of the accused persons killing the deceased.

The prosecution’s case was also supported by the postmortem examination conducted by government pathologist, Dr. Simeon Owiz Koroma, who performed an autopsy on the deceased, 15 days after the body was exhumed.

The postmortem report, among other things, revealed that three toes of the deceased on his right foot were missing, some of his fingers removed, his right eye plucked out and the left part of his head suffered severe and major dent, plus a two-centimetre stab wound in the neck, which apparently led to his untimely death.

A key witness for the prosecution was Ibrahim Hassan, an armed police guard deployed at the residence of LAC. He had testified that when he resumed duty the day after the party, the yellow rope, brown carpet and the car cover were missing.

He also testified that he was refused access to the compound on 25 May, 2015. He said the second accused Foday Amara Kamara told him that LAC wanted to see him at Deep Eye Water, east of Freetown.

Freelance journalist Cyril Harold Smith played a significant role in the investigation. He submitted a video clip of the alleged decomposed body of the victim which he had shot to the police, thus significantly adding weight to the prosecution’s case.

Almost all the prosecution witnesses that attended the party had testified seeing the deceased clad in red underwear, the same dress that was found on the abandoned corpse.

During their ‘no case’ submission, lawyer for LAC, Ishmael Philip Mammie, argued that the prosecution’s case was ‘a story’ and that there was a fundamental doubt in it.

He urged the jury to take his submission seriously as they were not taken to LAC’s house, where the murder alleged took place. He submitted that the prosecution had failed to provide answers to questions of “who killed DJ Clef, why, where and when.”

He also contended that prosecution witnesses, Ibrahim Hassan and Dr. Owiz Koroma failed to corroborate each other as the former had testified that the car cover was brown while the latter reported that it was pinkish-brown.

Co-defence lawyers, Musa Pious Sesay and Hindolo Moiwolo Gevao, made similar submissions for their respective clients. Gevao said third accused Ms. Renner was innocent of the crime and that she was only kept behind bars because God wants to punish her for disobeying the Health Emergency Regulations.

LAC, 23, faced several reprimand from the judge for his gorgeous dress. He often wore a gold wrist watch and afro hairdo, like any celebrity, which did not win the judge’s approval as the murder accused was cautioned for his ‘fashionable’ dress in his court.

Last Thursday, the trio faced final judgement in the High Court. While the judge was summing up, one could hear a drop of pin on the floor. He told the 12-man jury to focus on the 26 exhibits and pay close attention to the testimonies of prosecution witnesses that attended the party.

After spending the whole day on the summing up, the jury returned with a guilty verdict for LAC and his Personal Assistant Foday Amara Kamara.

The judge slammed 25 years jail term for the guilty verdict of conspiracy and the death penalty for murder. Third accused Avril Renner was acquitted and discharged.

This was the second death penalty sentence in the country in recent times. Justice Alan Hallowell in July this year handed down a similar sentence on a man who was found guilty of murder.

It remains unclear though whether the guilty duo would face the gallows as the country has not carried out the death penalty since 1998, when 24 soldiers were killed by firing squad following a treason trial for overthrowing the legitimate civilian government.

A moratorium on the death penalty is still in place, although the law is yet to be expunged.