A judicial drama that lasted almost three years reached a milestone Monday when Justice Yusuf Halilu of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court found Maryam Sanda guilty of killing her husband, Bilyaminu Bello.
Ms Sanda stabbed her husband with a kitchen knife with clear intent to kill, Mr Halilu said in the judgment on a two-count homicide charge brought by the Nigerian police against Ms Sanda in November 2017.
The prosecution asked for the death penalty. The judge obliged by sentencing the convict to death by hanging.
He said although the prosecution did not prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, as there was no other witness of the incident aside the accused and no autopsy or murder weapon tendered, the surrounding circumstances were compelling.
Justice Halilu said he reached his verdict by relying on the compelling circumstantial evidence and testimonies of the six witnesses called by the police, the relatives of the convict who cleaned up the scene of the murder; a post-mortem examination on the deceased’s corpse; and the contradictory statements of the convict.
The judge said he also relied on the “Doctrine of the Last Scene”, which stipulates that the last person at a crime scene bears full responsibility.
“It serves to buttress the finding that the defendant was the last to be seen with the deceased and therefore has full responsibility of what caused his death”, Mr Halilu who was appointed a judge at the FCT High Court in 2010 noted.
After the judge found her guilty and was about to deliver sentence, Ms Sanda forced her way out of the dock and burst into tears, screaming “Who will take care of my daughter?”
She was headed for the balcony before she was restrained by security officials.
Her relatives, in turn, started shouting, causing an uproar.
In the midst of the commotion, the judge called a short break to restore calm before the sentence was delivered.
Monday’s judgment lasted almost three hours as the judge traced the origin of the trial, the evidence of all the witnesses, as well as the surrounding circumstances that preceded the death of the deceased.
Six prosecution witnesses appeared during the trial, including the deceased’s friends who were with him moments before his death, the laundryman and police officers.
On the other hand, the defence counsel called three witnesses, including the accused and her mother.
In his testimony at the beginning of the trial, Ibrahim Mohammed, a friend of the deceased’s and a key witness, said he was at the Maitama residence of the couple on the night of November 18, 2017, for over eight hours before tragedy struck.
He recalled how an argument had degenerated into fisticuffs. The victim, Bilyaminu, was the son of a former national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Haliru Bello.
Mr Mohammed said Ms Sanda issued many threats to her husband, including to chop off his genitals if he declined to grant her divorce.
The witness said the defendant made several attempts to stab the deceased with weapons such as broken bottles and a kitchen knife. Those attempts were repelled initially, he said.
Ms Sanda admitted to having a fight with her husband on the ill-fated night but denied stabbing or using any weapon on him, even though she made such threats.
The convict said her husband died from a wound on the chest by a broken Shisha pot (also known as the ḡalyān, it is a single or multi-stemmed device that is used to either smoke or vaporise flavoured tobacco).
“He pushed me and as I was falling down, I mistakenly broke his Shisha bottle and the water inside spilled on the floor,” she narrated to the court.
The accused said the deceased fell against the broken Shisha pot in an attempt to hold her down. “I saw a broken bottle pricked into his chest which I removed and covered the chest with a scarf.”
The young woman said she rushed her husband to Maitama General Hospital where he was confirmed dead.
Smokescreen – Shishapot Plot
Justice Halilu in his final judgment discredited the Shisha pot story, describing it as a “smokescreen hatched to mislead the court and cover the truth”.
The judge said the compelling versions of multiple prosecuting witnesses (PW) has proven that the Shisha pot was broken after the death of Bilyaminu.
He said Pw1 and Pw4 admitted that they saw the shisha pot in question unbroken in the morning of the incident before the arrival of the police.
The judge said this piece of evidence remained “unshaken” as the mother of the accused who was also present that morning never denied that the witnesses were in the house before they all left for the station.
“Your almighty Shisha bottle has been discredited by compelling circumstantial evidence,” the judge said.
Justice Halilu also said Ms Sanda’s police statement was inconsistent with her court testimony. “In her statement before the court, the defendant failed to mention that he threatened to harm the deceased multiple times with a kitchen knife on the night of the incident.”
Maimuna Aliyu, Ms Sanda’s mother; Aliyu Sanda, her brother, and Sadiya Aminu, her housemaid were initially charged for allegedly tampering with evidence by cleaning the blood and other proofs from the crime scene.
Hamza Abdullahi, the laundry man who helped in conveying the deceased to the Maitama hospital where he was pronounced dead, said, “…when we got back home, we discovered that the bloodstain we left had already been cleaned…”
Another witness, Simon Okon, an Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) said, “…in the company of the relatives, we visited the incident scene where I saw some broken bottles on the floor but there was no bloodstain. I went to the bedroom still there was no bloodstain…”
Justice Halilu said Sanda’s relatives diverted to the house to clean up the crime scene before heading to the station, according to the laundry man’s version.
Ms Sanda’s was shaking violently as the judge was reading her sentence. Mr Halilu said surrounding circumstances proved that the defendant fatally injured the deceased by stabbing him in the heart and other body parts with a kitchen knife with intent “to kill”.
He said the attack was premeditated. Mr Halilu said though the accused is a mother of two, his sentiment will not go far to free her from the long arms of the law.
“You, Maryam Sanda is found guilty of the murder of Bilyaminu Bello and are hereby sentenced to death by hanging.”
Ms Sanda covered her face with a black veil as prison wardens dragged her out of the courtroom after the judge rose.