A Lagos High Court on Monday discharged and acquitted the six men charged with the murder of Funsho Williams, the Peoples Democratic Party candidate for the 2007 Lagos State gubernatorial poll.
After eight years of trial, Bulama Kolo, Musa Maina, David Cassidy, Tunani Sonoma, Mustapha Kayode and Ikponmwose Imariabie walked out of the courtroom as free men.
The six men were tried for conspiracy and murder.
Delivering his judgment, Justice Ebenezer Adebajo held that the evidence adduced by the prosecution to prove its case was “weak and superficial”.
The state, Adebajo said, failed to establish the fact that the defendants conspired to kill Williams.
He said: “The prosecution alleged that the fourth to sixth defendants made calls to their co-defendants using the deceased’s mobile phone.
“The prosecution, however, failed to produce the call log of the communication in court and also failed to show that the mobile phone actually belonged to Williams.”
Describing the evidence in proof of the charge of conspiracy to murder as circumstantial, the judge ruled that the defendants could not be convicted on a “weak and superficial case”.
On the charge of murder, the judge said that the prosecution was able to show that Williams was actually killed.
Adebajo, however, said that the prosecution could not create a nexus between the crime and the defendants.
Examining the evidence of the pathologist, Prof. John Obafunwa, who said Williams was strangled to death, Adebajo said: “I am satisfied that the deceased died.
“But there is nothing to show those responsible for his death.
“In the final analysis, the evidence is manifestly unreliable for the court to call upon the defendants to defend themselves.”
Adebajo then discharged and acquitted them.
The defence counsel, Okezie Agbara, had told the court on June 9 that the prosecution had failed to establish a prima facie case against the accused.
In a no-case-to-answer submission dated May 20, the defence counsel had told Justice Adebajo that the state’s case against his clients must collapse because it was built on unfounded suspicion.
Agbara submitted that an analysis of the pieces of evidence adduced by the state at the trial showed that the defendants were, at best, circumstantial.
He argued: “For a court of law to base conviction on circumstantial evidence, it must be of a compelling and irresistible nature to show that the accused and no one else were responsible for the crime.
“There has been no legally admissible evidence against the defendants.”
He then urged Justice Adebajo to hold that the prosecution failed to link any of the defendants with Williams’ murder.
Relying on Section 243 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law of Lagos State, Agbara urged the court to dismiss the charge and set his clients free.
But the prosecution opposed the application, asking the court to strike it out.
Led by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Idowu Alakija, the prosecution said it had established a case to warrant the defendants to enter a defence.
As soon as the verdict was handed down, some of the defendants thanked God for giving them victory, fighting back tears.
They recounted what they had suffered in the last eight years of the trial.
Sergeant Imariabe Ikponmwose, leader of the police team which guarded Funsho Williams at the time of the murder, could not be comforted as he kept crying.
Ikponmwose said through the eight years that the trial lasted, the Nigeria Police had sacked him, while his wife also left him.
The ordeal has caused his mother a stroke that has confined her to the hospital, he said.
His colleague, Sergeant Kayode Mustapha, said he was sacked, he lost his three-month-old daughter, who never had the opportunity of knowing him.
Mustapha also recalled that his mother became blind as a result of crying.
Their lawyer, Agbara, who said he did the case pro bono (without legal fees), called for the reinstatement of Ikponmwose, Kayode and Tunani Sonoma by the police authorities.
Bulama Kolo, Musa Maina, David Cassidy, Tunani Sonoma, Mustapha Kayode and Ikponmwose Imariabie (policemen deployed to provide security for Williams) were first arraigned on March 1, 2013.
The six men were arraigned before Justice Adebajo for allegedly killing Williams at his 34A, Corporation Drive, Dolphin Estate, Ikoyi home on July 27, 2006.
The offences are punishable under Sections 316 and 324 of the Criminal Code, Laws of Lagos State, 2003.