The Court of Appeal, Calabar Division on Tuesday 12th March, 2021 quashed the conviction and sentence of one John Eyo Ikon who was sentenced to death by the Hon Justice Okon A. Okon of the Akwa Ibom State High Court, sitting in Uyo on the 24th April, 2017 for Murder. The Appellant was convicted for the Murder of one Paul Eyo Ikon on the 29th January, 2015 at Utang Street, Uyo. The Appeal to the Court of Appeal, Calabar Division was registered as Appeal No. CA/C/482C/2018
In a unanimous decision, the Court of Appeal, presided by Mojeed Adekunle Owoade, JCA, who also read the lead judgment and concurred by James Shehu Abiriyi, JCA and Mohammed Lawal Shuaibu, JCA allowed the appeal, discharging and acquitting the Appellant of the offence of Murder.
The sole issue presented for the resolution of the appeal by the Appellant’s Counsel was:
Whether the circumstantial evidence relied upon by the learned trial Judge to convict the Appellant for the offence of Murder was sustainable in the circumstance.
The Prosecution, at the trial Court, had alleged that the Appellant and the deceased returned from an outside engagement together and that the Appellant, being the last person to see the deceased alive, had a responsibility to explain the death of the deceased; failing which the Doctrine of Last Seen would apply to hold the Appellant fully culpable in the death of the deceased. Notwithstanding the fact that the deceased lived in a separate apartment from the Appellant within the same compound co-habited by 11 other families, the trial High Court nevertheless found the Appellant guilty of the offence. The learned trial Judge in his judgment had concluded thus:
“… From available circumstantial evidence before this Court, including the conduct of the accused in his failed efforts to conceal the death of the deceased, I find it irresistible to infer that it was the Accused who caused the death of the deceased in this case after which he locked the corpse of the deceased inside the room and fled the house leaving behind, members of his family.”
On appeal by the Appellant, it was contended on the Appellant’s behalf that it was untenable for the prosecution to place such an onerous responsibility on the Appellant when the evidence on record clearly evinced the return of the Appellant and the deceased to their separate apartments and that it was inconceivable that the Appellant could have any further responsibility under the Last Seen Doctrine in the circumstance. Learned Counsel for the Appellant concluded that it was abundantly clear that none of the prosecution witnesses saw the commission of any crime by the Appellant and that the findings of the trial Court were perverse and unwarranted.
That Court of Appeal agreed with Counsel to the Appellant. In its judgment, the Appeal Court declared that the trial Judge was in error not only in invoking the doctrine of Last Seen to convict the Appellant on the uncontroverted facts of the case but also to believe that the Appellant’s conviction can be justified by circumstantial evidence. The Judgment of the High Court was set aside.
The Appellant was represented by Chief Victor Iyanam, a one-time Attorney General of Akwa Ibom State. The Director of Public Prosecutions of Akwa Ibom State, Joseph Umoren, Esq., represented the State. The Appellant had since been released from the Uyo Correctional Centre.