Williams Owodo was arrested on the February 1, 1995 with 4 other persons on allegation of murder and was subsequently convicted and sentenced to death on 5th December, 2003 by the Lagos High Court. Williams, now 33, was 16 years old at the time the alleged offence was committed in 1995.
The case against Williams Owodo was that he was part of a group of young boys who fought and stabbed the deceased which resulted in the death of the deceased. The prosecution contended that Williams was among the 8 other boys who were playing cards in the neighborhood but spread dried cassava flour on the nearby street as bait to rob people.
They had common intention that anyone who stepped on the cassava would be challenged, providing them the opportunity to rob such a person of his or her property which included the deceased person. The defence of Williams that he was playing football with his friends when they saw a crowd watching some people fighting. He later left for his home and was on his way when a police van stopped beside him and he was pushed into the van and taken to Ajeromi Police Station and was then tortured into signing a false confession. Many other persons were also raided and arrested that evening and brought to the police station. Some of those arrested paid money to bail themselves out. He had no money with him to pay for his bail, and could not reach his parents. He was unable to afford a lawyer, and so at the trial, the judge sentenced him to die for his supposed crime. He spent 18 years in custody for a crime he did not commit.
“I was hopeless,” said Owodo. “At a point I almost committed suicide
In a well-considered judgment that resolved all the issues in favour of Williams, the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division unanimously allowed the appeal; discharged and acquitted Williams Owodo of his conviction and sentence to death after 17 years of the arrest and remand of Williams.
The court particularly held, amongst others, that there was no was eye witness that testified and linked the death of the deceased person to the act of the accused, Williams Owodo. The High Court failed to conduct a trial within trial when the accused person gave evidence that he was beaten with a rod and forced to sign the written statement that the lower court relied on to convict and sentence him to death.
More so, at the time of the incident, the accused person was underaged and ought to have been taken to Juvenile Court for trial. The High Court erred in law to have relied on the age of the accused person, Williams Owodo, as at the time of the trial instead of his age as at the time the incident occurred.
According to his lawyer, Chino Obiagwu; “again like we said earlier this year following the outcome of the appeal of Olatunji Olaide, this is a case that calls for an in-depth re-evaluation and urgent overhauling of our Criminal Justice System, especially as it relates to the use of capital punishment. We cannot continue to be sentencing innocent persons to death, only for the appeal court to upturn the judgment after a decade or more when the appellant must have served unlawful sentence and deprivation of his personal liberty in the prison. This is very pathetic in the sense that a juvenile like Williams in this case should not have been charged with a capital offence in the first instance. Well, it is good enough that Williams was able to write and make his WASSCE papers in prison while on death row and is currently studying Co-operative Management at the Kirikiri satellite campus of the National Open University.”
LEDAP uses this medium to call on the Nigeria government to reconsider its stand on the use of capital punishment by abolishing the use of death penalty and replacing same with life imprisonment.