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The Supreme Court on Friday affirmed the death sentence passed on the General-Overseer of the Christian Praying Assembly, Chukwuemeka Ezeugo (aka Rev. King), by a Lagos High Court in Ikeja on January 11, 2007, for murder and attempted murder of some of his church members in 2006.
A five-man bench of the Supreme Court led by Justice Walter Onnoghen, in its unanimous judgement, dismissed the appeal by Ezeugo challenging the verdict of the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal, which had affirmed the conviction and the sentence passed on him by the Lagos High Court.
Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, who read the lead judgement of the apex court, resolved all the 12 issues raised by Ezeugo in his appeal against him and dismissed the entire appeal for lacking in merit.
He said, “In his appeal to this court, 12 issues were distilled from the grounds of appeal by the appellant. The respondent had nine issues. The respondent’s nine issues were encompassed in the appellant’s 12 issues and, in spite of the imperfection in the appellant’s issues, I decided to determine the appeal on those issues. I considered all of them and at the end I came to the conclusion that, the appeal has no merit.
“Having considered all the arguments proffered by the learned counsel for the parties, in addition to the records, I resolve all the 12 issues formulated by the appellants against him. Consequently, I hold that the appeal is bereft of merit and it is hereby dismissed.
“The judgement of the Court of Appeal which had affirmed the judgement of the trial court is hereby affirmed. The prison terms of attempted murder are no longer relevant and discountenanced in view of the death penalty hereby affirmed. Appeal dismissed.”
The judgement dealt a final blow on the last effort by Ezeugo to free himself of the death sentence which has been hanging around his neck for over nine years.
The condemned cleric was arraigned before the Lagos High Court in Ikeja on September 26, 2006 on six counts of murder of a member of his church, Ann Uzoh, and attempted murder of five other members.
He was said to have poured petrol on the deceased and the five other victims and set them on fire for allegedly committing fornication.
Uzoh died on August 2, 2006, 11 days after the incident, as a result of the injuries which she sustained from the burns.
She was said to have been 65 per cent burnt in the fire incident. The trial judge, Justice Olubunmi Oyewole (now a Justice of the Court of Appeal), had in his judgement delivered on January 11, 2007 convicted Ezeugo and sentenced him to 20 years imprisonment on each of the five counts of attempted murder and death sentence for murder.
Dissatisfied with Justice Oyewole’s judgement, Ezeugo appealed to the Court of Appeal.
But the Court of Appeal affirmed his conviction and the sentence passed on him.
He further appealed to the Supreme Court which also on Friday dismissed his appeal and affirmed the judgements of both the Lagos High Court and the Court of Appeal.
In his opening remarks, Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, who read the lead judgement, said, “The fact of this case could have been lifted from a horror film.
“At all material times, both parties agreed that the appellant was General Overseer of Christian Praying Assembly, Ikeja, Lagos. It was also agreed that he had a father-son and father-daughter relationship with the victims of the incident.
“The prosecution’s case was that the appellant accused six of his people of immoral behaviour. He called them together, beat each of them with many hard objects and after the beating, he assembled them downstairs, made them to kneel down and he caused petrol to be poured on them and a struck match thrown on them.
“They all sustained various degrees of burns. While five of them escaped, the sixth of them who later died sustained 65 per cent degree burns. You can imagine her last day in the hospital.
“Appellant denied this incident, saying though he punished them for immoral behaviour, the punishment was different from the incident that gave birth to this charge.
“He said they sustained injuries when a generator exploded. That was his case. But throughout the proceedings, this mysterious generator was never produced.”
Meanwhile, the Lagos State Government on Friday hailed the verdict of the Supreme Court. The State Government, through the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Adeniji Kazeem, said the judgement was another confirmation of the seriousness of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s administration to be decisive in fighting crime in the state. A statement signed by the Deputy Director, Public Affairs Office, Lagos State Ministry of Justice, Bola Akingbade, quoted the commissioner as saying, “This is just another confirmation that the government of his Excellency, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, is going to be very strong on fighting crime. Wherever a crime is committed, no matter how long it takes, the government of Lagos State will ensure that the perpetrators of this crime face justice eventually.
“I salute the Supreme Court for this erudite judgement and I want to assure the public that we will continue and we will not relent in our fight to make Lagos a safer, secure and more prosperous state.”
In December 2015, the apex court, presided over by Justice Walter Onoghen, had adjourned for judgement after entertaining arguments from counsel to prosecution and defence in the matter.