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Issac Uche v. The State (1973) LLJR-SC

Issac Uche v. The State (1973)

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After hearing argument on this appeal on 22nd October, 1972 and without calling upon counsel for the respondent, we dismissed it as lacking in merit and indicated that we would give our reasons later. This we now do.

The appellant, Isaac Uche, was convicted in the Benin High Court (Ighodaro J.) of having murdered one Matthew Afeme, on or about the 30th day of August, 1971 at Benin and was sentenced to death.

The case of the prosecution, which was accepted by the trial court, may be stated briefly as follows.

The appellant, a driver in the Nigerian Army had on 30th August, 1971, brought 16 soldiers from Lagos to Benin in order that they might compete in certain sporting events taking place in the latter city. Soon after arrival in Benin, the appellant decided to look up the deceased, a relation of his who was also serving with a unit of the Nigerian Army based at Ikpoba Hill, in the said city. From Ikpoba Hill, the appellant, the deceased and one Robert Omotoye (P.W. 1), went in a taxi-cab to the house of the deceased at No. 7 Owinna Street, Benin City.

There is evidence that at his house the deceased procured some drinks, two small bottles of stout and a bottle of star beer for his guests, while he helped himself to a small quantity of local gin in another bottle.

As they drank, the deceased and the appellant conversed in a dialect which P. W.1 did not understand and, after some time, the two men got up and went into an inner room, the door of which they closed behind them. At this stage only P. W.1 was left in the outer room.

The time then was 11 a.m., and not long after he had been left alone, P. W.1 was overcome by sleep from which he was later rudely aroused by what sounded like the explosion of a gun. He had thought that the report came from outside the house and went to investigate. He saw nothing and returned to the outer room. As he did so he saw the door to the inner room now open and the accused carrying the deceased. On this aspect of the case P. W.1 testified thus:-

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“Then I saw the accused carrying the deceased. Then I shouted ‘what happened’ -he replied that his brother had shot himself. Then he came out of the room and he said he was going to lodge a complaint at the police station. The deceased was lying on the ground. I went with him to lodge a complaint at the Police Station. I made a statement to the Police. I did not go into the inner room to help the accused. Nobody came to meet me at the parlour before the incident and before we went to the Police Station.”

There was evidence before the trial court which was not challenged by the defence that:-

(a) The accused, the deceased and P.W.1 were the only three persons in the outer room from the time of their arrival there up to the death of the deceased.

(b) Although the inner room had a door leading to the rear of the house, it was locked and remained locked at all times material to a consideration of the killing of the deceased, and could not be opened until the wife of the deceased produced the key to the door on her return from market after police investigation in the case had commenced.

(c) The said inner room had only one window of the louvre-type and it was locked.

After the trial court had considered the above evidence along with the medical evidence as to the cause of death, and also the defence of the accused, it convicted him as charged.

Against this conviction, this appeal was brought. Mr. Okeaya-Inneh, learned counsel for the appellant, obtained leave to argue 4 grounds of appeal in addition to the original ground filed.

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Learned counsel for the appellant only advanced argument in respect of ground 2 of the additional grounds of appeal which ground reads:-

“That the learned trial judge erred in law in holding as follows:-

“In view of the facts that I have adduced above-the fact of the shooting, the death which resulted, and the fact that these were two and only two persons in the room, I have no other conclusion than to infer that the accused killed the deceased. I rule out the question of accident since it was not raised by the defence or pleaded by the accused.”

When there was enough and sufficient evidence to raise doubts in his mind. Learned counsel referred to the specific findings of the learned trial judge and submitted that the inference that was drawn therefrom, that is, that the appellant killed the deceased, amounted to a misdirection on the evidence.

We have carefully examined the record in this case and it is manifest that it does not support the contention of counsel. The case of the defence was clearly irreconcilable with that of the prosecution. Although the defence of accident or suicide was feebly put forward by the appellant, we fail to see any basis for it since he did not admit being in the room with the deceased when the shooting took place.

In respect of the shooting itself, the appellant testified thus:-

“Then we continued drinking-as we drank, he left us and went into the room and he shut the door-but was not locked with the key. At about two minutes time, I heard the shot of something-‘Boaar’-I was shocked-then I shouted on Robert. When I shouted on Robert, Robert was himself shocked and asked- ‘What is that!’ Then two of us ran into the inner room. When we got inside I saw the deceased on the ground, struggling. Then I was shouting, ‘Matthew’ but no sound. Then I was shouting that my brother has shot himself.”

On the other hand, the court of trial had before it evidence:-

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(a) That the entry point of the fatal bullet was about 4 inches behind the left ear .

(b) That the murder weapon even after death was held in the hand of the deceased loosely and clumsily instead of being tightly grasped.

(c) The trail of the bullet through the brain was oblique.

(d) That there was total absence of singeing of the hair around the entry wound of the bullet.

(e) That the bullet remained lodged on the other side of the skull instead of coming clear of it.

It seems to us that although there was no eye-witness account of the shooting, it could not be suicide as alleged by the appellant, because from the evidence above, the only reasonable inference is that the deceased was shot at from behind and at a distance, by the only other person with him in the room, that, the appellant.

We accordingly saw no justifiable grounds for disturbing the verdict of the lower court, and for the above reasons, we dismissed the appeal.

Other Citation: (1973) LCN/1666(SC)

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