A State High Court judge in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, on Monday entered a ‘not-guilty plea’ for Uduak Akpan, even though the suspect had pleaded guilty to the murder of Iniubong Umoren, whom he had lured with a fake job interview.
The prosecuting and defence counsels disclosed this while addressing reporters outside the courtroom shortly after the case was adjourned.
The Attorney General of Akwa Ibom State, Uko Sam, is leading the prosecution team.
Mr Sam, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, told reporters, “For a capital offence, an accused person pleading guilty is neither here nor there. As far as the law is concerned, he is not guilty until we prove our case.
“If you recall when he (the accused) started, his counsel was not there in court and the court had to appoint a lawyer to represent him. So if an accused person pleads guilty in a capital offence like this, the court normally would enter a plea of not guilty for him,” he said.
Mr Sam’s position was corroborated by the defence counsel, Sampson Adula who prayed the judge to enter a not-guilty plea for his client, shortly after he was appointed by the court to represent the suspect.
Mr Adula is the Akwa Ibom State coordinator of the Legal Aid Council, a statutory body which provides free legal services to low-income Nigerians who are unable to hire a lawyer.
The lawyer told reporters that under the law, “any case that attracts death penalty requires a not-guilty plea, even if the suspect pleads guilty”.
“The court is enjoined to enter a plea of not guilty to a murder suspect even if he pleaded guilty and that was what I prayed the court to do because of the nature of the case which carry capital punishment.”
Mr Adula told journalists that Mr Akpan was not guilty of the charges. He vowed to represent him till the end of the trial.
“It behooves the state to lead credible evidence to prove the charge before the court,” he said.
The judge, Bennet Illamouh, before adjourning the case to August 18, acceded to the prayer of the defence counsel and entered a not-guilty plea for Mr Akpan.
The accused was docked with his father, Frank Akpan.
Miss Umoren was reportedly raped and killed in April in the outskirts of Uyo by Mr Akpan who the police in Akwa Ibom State described as a serial rapist.
Her remains were buried in a shallow grave in Mr Akpan’s family house where the crime took place.
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