Otokoto: Supreme Court Frees Ajaegbu After 22 Years
lban Ajaegbu, one of the persons accused of the ritual killing of 11-year-old Ikechukwu Okoronkwo in 1996 in Amakohia Owerri, Imo State, was on Friday set free by the Supreme Court after staying 22 years in prison custody.
The young Okoronkwo, before his untimely death, was a groundnut seller.
He was hacked down on September 19, 1996, when he was lured into Otokoko Hotel, Amakohia, Owerri and beheaded.
The unsuspecting Okoronko was said to have been drugged through a bottle of Coca-Cola soft drink given to him by the dare-devil assailants.
The hotel was owned by a popular business man Vincent Duru, known as Chief Otokoto.
Apart from beheading little Okoronkwo, the suspects, who were seven in number allegedly removed different vital organs from his body, including his genitals before burying the corpse in a shallow grave in the hotel premises.
However, luck ran out on the evil men, when their heinous act was discovered when 32-year-old Innocent Ekeanyanwu, left the hotel to deliver the head in a polythene bag to a client.
An okada rider, who gave him a ride, discovered the fresh human head and alerted the police and Ekeanyanwu was arrested by the police on his way back.
But in a lead judgment on Friday in respect of the trial, Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun held that the circumstantial evidence relied on to convict and sentence the appellant by the lower courts was not sufficient.
The judgment was read by Justice Ejembi Eko and the other four justices on the panel unanimously agreed with the judgment.
Justice Kekere Ekun stated that, “It must be restated here that the appellant was charged with murder and the prosecution has the burden of proving beyond reasonable doubt that it was the act of the appellant that caused the death of deceased.
“The appellant does not have the burden to prove his innocence. The lower court held that the defence of the appellant raised a lot of suspicion.
“The law is well settled that suspicion, no matter how grave, cannot take the place of proof,” the apex court held.
She said that the assumption of the lower courts that because the appellant worked in the hotel for 17 years, he should have known who owned the farm that Okoronkwo was buried in was wrong.
“Suspicion cannot take the place of legal proof. That the appellant worked in the hotel for 17 years and didn’t know who owned the farm cannot make him guilty.
“The law is settled, that an accused person told lies does not make him guilty.”
Consequently, the court reasoned that the prosecution failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt.
Therefore, the Supreme Court set aside the judgment of the Court of Appeal in Owerri, delivered in 2012 which upheld the death sentence of the trial court and acquitted and discharged Ajaegbo.