⦿ CASE SUMMARY OF:
Pius Nweke v. The State (2001) – SC
(2001) 4 NWLR (Pt.704) 588;
(2001) 2 S.C 9;
⦿ LEAD JUDGEMENT DELIVERED BY:
⦿ LAWYERS WHO ADVOCATED
* FOR THE APPELLANT
– N. O. O. Oke;
* FOR THE RESPONDENT
– Chief O. Oyebolu A.G. Ogun State;
The case for prosecution is that the appellant and the deceased, Josephine Pius Nweke were husband and wife; they both lived together at Oribe village, via Ago Iwoye, Ogun State, until the death of the deceased (appellant’s wife) on November 11,1992. The couple had a kolanut farm at Odoliwu village, via Ago Iwoye.
In the morning of 11th November 1992, the appellant and his wife left their Oribe village together for their farm at Odoliwu village. This was at about 10 a.m, They passed by Tairu Hassan and Olusola Kadiri (PW3 and PW4 respectively) in the Oribe village and exchanged greetings with them. They all knew each other before that day as they lived in the same village – Oribe.
About an hour after the appellant and his wife had left PW3 and PW4 for their kolanut farm, the latter heard an unusual noise from the direction of the farm of the appellant. They moved towards the farm in order to find out what was the cause of the noise. On their way to the appellant’s farm they met the appellant coming back from the farm; he was alone. They inquired from the appellant the cause of the noise from his farm. The appellant replied that his wife (the deceased) was a troublesome woman and that she was carrying a pregnancy that did not belong to him. He added that he had asked the deceased to take the pregnancy to the owner but the deceased refused to do so. When PW3 and PW4 asked the appellant the whereabouts of the deceased, he replied that the deceased had left the farm through another route. PW3 and PW4 walked with the appellant to the former’s hut where, at the appellant’s request, they gave him water to drink. The appellant, who was all the time carrying a load on his head and had a matchet in his hand, put the load down in order to drink the water they gave him. It was at this stage PW3 and PW4 noticed that the appellant had in the luggage the same clothes and pair of slippers the deceased wife wore that morning when she passed them on her way to the farm. They became suspicious.
The appellant noticing the curiosity of these two witnesses for the prosecution lifted up his load, put it on his head and went away. PW3 and PW4 decided to find out what happened in the farm and left for the appellant’s farm. On reaching there they found the dead body of his deceased wife with her throat slashed. She was naked and lying in a pool of blood.
They made a report to the police who then commenced investigation into the death of the deceased. Police took a photographer to the scene and the latter took some snapshots of the deceased. The corpse of the deceased was later conveyed to the State Hospital mortuary at Ijebu-Ode, where PW1 performed a post-mortem examination on the corpse.
According to the evidence of PW1 which the learned trial Judge accepted, the corpse of the deceased had a deep cut in front of the neck. On the chest there was nothing significant. The examination of the abdomen revealed that the deceased was pregnant. On opening the abdomen I (sic) found a dead male baby. There was no fracture of the leg. My (sic) opinion as to the cause of death was loss of blood due to the cut throat.
(1) Whether the court below was not wrong when it confirmed the conviction of the appellant for murder considering the quality of circumstantial evidence adduced by the prosecution at the trial.
(2) Whether the court below was not wrong when it confirmed the appellant’s conviction for the murder of his deceased wife when there was no certainty as the identity of the body on which a postmortem examination was performed by PW 1.
⦿ HOLDING & RATIO DECIDENDI
1. Issue 1 was resolved in favour of the respondent.
i. In the case on hand, the following facts emerge from the evidence accepted by the learned trial Judge, particularly that of PW3 and PW4:
1. On 11/11/92 at about 10 a.m., the appellant and his wife were seen together at Oribe village going to their kolanut farm at Odoliwu village; the appellant was holding a matchet.
2. At about 11 a.m. of that day the appellant and his wife were heard quarrelling; the wife was shouting and screaming in the farm.
3. As PW3 and PW4 were going to the appellant’s farm to find out what was happening between the appellant and his wife, they met the appellant returning alone carrying a load on his head and holding his matchet.
4. On enquiring from the appellant the where about of his wife, he told PW3 and PW4 that his wife was a troublesome woman and that they quarrelled over the pregnancy she was carrying in that the pregnancy belonged to another man. He added that he had told his wife to take the pregnancy to the owner but that she refused to do so. He finally told PW3 and PW4 that his wife has left the farm through another route.
5. The appellant followed PW3 and PW4 to their hut in the village where he asked for water. He was given water to drink. He put the load on his head down in order to drink the water. PW3 and PW4 saw among the load the clothing and pair of slippers appellant’s wife wore to the farm that morning.
6. The appellant on observing that PW3, PW4 and others around focused their gaze at his load, got up, carried the load on his head and left.
7. PW3 and PW4 then left for the appellant’s farm to find out what had actually happened. On getting to the farm, they discovered the naked corpse of the appellant’s wife; her throat had been slashed and she was lying in a pool of blood.
8. A report was made to the police who went to appellant’s house at Imodi to look for him but the appellant had disappeared. He was arrested nine days after the incident following information given to the police by a clergyman with whom the appellant stayed for about 4 days after the incident.
9. Post-mortem examination confirmed that appellant’s wife was carrying a pregnancy at the time of her death and that she died from loss of blood from the cut to her throat. The facts above, no doubt, called for some explanation from the appellant. But what explanation did he give? First, he lied to PW3 and PW4 that the deceased wife had left the farm by another route. Secondly, he lied to the police that when he did not see his wife return home, he went in search of her at her sister’s place and later in their hometown. The learned trial Judge had no hesitation in rejecting his stories, both in his statement to the police and in oral evidence.
In my respectful view, the facts proved against the appellant are so cogent, unequivocal, and conclusive that they point irresistibly to the appellant, as the person who killed his wife on 11/11/92.
2. Issue 2 was held against the Appellant.
i. That it was on the body of appellant’s deceased wife that PW 1 performed an autopsy is borne out by the following –
(a) PW3 and PW4 who knew her before the date of the incident saw her body lying naked in appellant’s farm with a deep cut to her throat. She was pregnant at the time.
(b) They reported to the police. The police brought a photographer to the farm who took the picture of the deceased while lying on the ground dead. The police, together with PW3 and PW4, on 12/11/92 conveyed the corpse of appellant’s deceased wife to the hospital mortuary where PW1 performed an autopsy.
(c) The corpse PW1 performed a post-mortem examination on had a deep cut to the throat and the deceased was in an advanced stage of pregnancy at the time of her death.
(d) The appellant admitted his late wife was carrying an eight month pregnancy at the time he saw her last.
⦿ SOME PROVISIONS
⦿ RELEVANT CASES
Hewart Lord Chief Justice of England in R v. Taylor & Ors. (1928) 21 CAR 20 at P.21: “It has been said that the evidence against the applicants is circumstantial: So it is, but circumstantial evidence is very often the best. It is evidence of surrounding circumstances which, by undersigned coincidence, is capable of proving a proposition with the accuracy of mathematics. It is no derogation of evidence to say that it is circumstantial”.
Omana Uzoyare v. The State (1984) 10 SC 157: “motive in law is not necessarily an essential ingredient in proof of murder, as the motive maybe safely anchored in the mind of the accused person. In proving murder the court looks at what the accused actually does”.
⦿ NOTABLE DICTA
To secure a conviction in a criminal trial, circumstantial piece or pieces of evidence must be cogent, complete and unequivocal. Such evidence too, must be compelling and must lead to the irresistible conclusion that the accused and no one else must have committed the crime. Indeed, the facts must be incompatible with innocence of the accused and incapable of explanation upon any reasonable hypothesis than that of his guilt. – Onu, JSC. Nweke v. State (2001)