A Port Harcourt High Court has fixed October 17 for the ruling on bail applications filed by the 12 persons standing trial for the killing of four students of the University of Port Harcourt in Omuokiri-Aluu community River State, last year.
The accused persons, including the paramount ruler of the community, Alhaji Hassan Welewa, are standing trial on eight-count charge of murder and neglect to prevent felony in the lynching of the four students.
The trial judge, Justice Letam Nyordee, fixed the date at the resumed hearing of the case yesterday as the prosecution opened its case with the presentation of its first witness, Raphael Ezeji, a Deputy Supreintended of Police (DSP) at the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the state Police Command.
Ezeji told the court that on October 5, 2012, his department received a report from Omuokiri town in Aluu community that four undergraduates of the university were stripped naked, paraded and about to be set ablaze.
He said the police dispatched a team from Isiokpo division to the scene of the incident to rescue the students but due to the distance, the students were set ablaze before the arrival of the police.
Ezeji, who was led in evidence by the state Solicitor-General in the state Ministry of Justice, Mr. Rufus Godwins, as the prosecuting counsel, said he visited the scene of the crime with other policemen and saw the deceased persons, jerry cans, clothes and condemned tyres.
The witness said he took photographs of the deceased persons and a dog said to have been used to torture the students, adding that information were also gathered from internet which were recorded.
As the prosecution sought to tender the photographs and negative, the defence counsel objected to their admissibility, contending that the police officer was not the maker of the documents.
They also argued that no proper foundation had been made for the admissibility of the photographs and negative, and urged the court to reject the intended exhibits by the prosecution.
Replying, the prosecuting counsel, Godwins, said a foundation was made based on the records of proceedings by the court and urged the court to dismiss the objections raised which he described as misconceived by the defence.
The counsel told the court that the witness was the maker of the documents sought to be tendered based on his evidence, and dismissed the contention by the defence that the documents were of public nature.
The defence also applied for the bail of the accused persons, stating that they were eligible to granted bail even though the matter was a capital offence.
“We agree it is a capital offence but at the same time it is a bailable offence, and these people are presumed to be innocent until proven otherwise. It is the judge who at the end of the trial will state if he is guilty or not. But as at now, he is presumed innocent. Let’s forget about public sentiment. Sentiment is not the law. The court knows better; so we leave it to the discretion of the court,” the defence counsel said.
But Godwins objected to the application, stating that the accused persons had not shown convincing grounds for the bail to be granted.
He said: “It is normal for people to apply for bail as they have done; it is their right. It is also the right of the deceased to be defended, even in their graves, because it is the public interest that is at stake here, the values of the public. So we are here to ensure that the scale of justice is evenly handed and handled with the required equity to the accused person, the deceased and the society.”
The court therefore adjourned the matter to October 17 for ruling on both applications.
Welewa and three others were charged with negligence to prevent the murder of the four students, namely Ugonna Obuzor, Lloyd Toku Mike, Tekena Elkanah and Chiadika Biringa, while Lawal Segun and seven others were charged with murder of the students on the fateful day.