⦿ CASE SUMMARY OF:
Joseph Lori & Anor. v. The State (1980) – SC
by PipAr Chima
⦿ LITE HOLDING
For a person to be convicted of circumstantial evidence, such evidence must be cogent, complete, and unequivocal.
⦿ AREA OF LAW
Joseph Lori & Anor.
(1980) JELR 33939 (SC)
⦿ LEAD JUDGEMENT DELIVERED BY:
A. Nnamani, J.S.C.
* FOR THE APPELLANT
* FOR THE RESPONDENT
The deceased, Sunday Egerega, was a taxi driver and plied his taxi, registration No. MWX. 1188, for hire at Warri. There was a standing instruction from his brother Thompson Egerega, P.W.2, that he should come home daily at 8 p.m. When he failed to return home till quite late on 8.2.76, a search party for him was arranged. Later, on information received, Thompson Egerega, P. W. 2, proceeded to Agbor where he found the wreckage of taxi cab registration number MWX. 1188 which apparently had been involved in an accident. On enquiry for the driver of the taxi, he was informed that he (the driver) was injured and had been taken to Agbor Police Station and then to Benin Specialist Hospital where he met the 1st appellant in this appeal. 1st appellant was admitted into hospital under an assumed name, Gabriel Cauley. Bewildered that this was not his brother, Sunday, Thompson Egerega reported back to the police who immediately placed a guard at the hospital bedside of the 1st appellant. On his own admission, 2nd appellant was a passenger in the taxi cab MWX.1188 at the time it was involved in the accident at Agbor. As would appear later on in this judgment, he claimed that the vehicle was brought to him by 1st Appellant for purchase and that he was to pay for it at Onitsha. On 10.2.76, the decomposing body of an adult male was found in a farm in a village called Iwrekaka. The corpse was removed to Ughelli Police. On 11.2.76, Dr. S. N. Murphy, P.W.1, performed a post mortem examination on the said body. He found no external or internal injury on the body. Though he removed specimens of pieces of the liver, lungs and intestine and sent them to the Forensic Laboratory in Lagos, he never received back any report on them. He was unable to state the cause of death. The body was then buried. On 22.4.76 the body was exhumed and re-examined by the same doctor. It was identified to him as the body of Sunday Egerega by Thompson Egerega who claimed to have recognised his brother’s skeleton because of his open teeth and the dress he (Sunday) wore when he was last seen on 8.2.76. Now the doctor found that asphyxia was the possible cause of death. On the 23rd March, 1976 the 1st appellant was arrested and charged with murder and he made 4 statements to the police. It was through these statements that the 2nd Appellant was arrested and charged with the murder of Sunday Egerega.
The appellants and 1 other were on 27th February, 1977 convicted and sentenced to death by Gbemudu, J., having been found guilty of murder (of one Sunday Egerega) punishable under Section 257 (1) of the Criminal Code Cap.. 28 Vol. 1, Laws of the former Western State of Nigeria 1959, applicable in the Bendel State of Nigeria.
They all appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal, Benin Judicial Division which in a reserved judgment delivered by Ete, JCA., on 10. 5. 79, dismissed the appeal in respect of the appellants but allowed the appeal of the 3rd accused. Whereupon the appellants appealed to this court.
1. Whether the guilt of the Appellant was proved beyond reasonable doubt?
⦿ RESOLUTION OF ISSUE(S)
1. ISSUE 1 WAS RESOLVED IN FAVOUR OF THE APPELLANT BUT AGAINST THE RESPONDENT.
i. It is conceded of course that Ororosokode’s case is not on all fours with the instant case in which 2nd appellant was clearly a passenger and had a clear pecuniary interest in taxi cab MWX. 1188, but it seems to me to imply that there must be something more than the mere possession of the vehicle shortly after the suspected crime or even as in the instant case, being passengers in it, to link the accused with the murder of the deceased.
ii. There is nothing in the medical evidence from which any nexus can be forged between the death of the deceased and the act of the 2nd appellant. The house of the 2nd accused was searched and no poison of any sort was found as to suggest that he may have administered one to the deceased. He was never in the company of the deceased nor did anyone see him in the vicinity of the village in which the body of the deceased was recovered. His case is that the taxi cab MWX.1188 was brought to him by 1st appellant and Michael. There is therefore no evidence whatsoever that the 2nd appellant or in collaboration with anyone did any act that led to the death of Sunday Egerega.
It is common ground that there is no direct evidence connecting the 2nd appellant with the death of the deceased. The evidence adduced was circumstantial. Both the learned trial Judge and the learned Justices of the Federal Court of Appeal proceeded on that basis and at the end, erroneously in my view, decided that the evidence available was positive and conclusive enough to support the conviction of the 2nd appellant.
⦿ ENDING NOTE BY LEAD JUSTICE – Per Nnamani JSC
The case against the 2nd appellant has not been so proved. It was for these reasons that we were satisfied that the conviction of the 2nd appellant could not stand. His appeal was accordingly allowed. The judgment of the federal Court of Appeal dated 10.5.79 was set aside and 2nd appellant was discharged and acquitted.
⦿ CONTRIBUTIONS OF OTHER JUSTICES TO ISSUE(S)
⦿ REFERENCED (STATUTE)
Section 148 of the Evidence Act, Cap.. 62, states as follows: “…the court may presume the existence of any fact which it thinks likely to have happened, regard being had to the common course of natural events, human conduct and public and private business in their relation to the facts of the particular case and in particular the court may presume – (a) That a man who is in possession of stolen goods soon after the theft is either the thief or has received the goods knowing them to be stolen, unless he can account for his possession…”
⦿ REFERENCED (CASE)
Denning , J., (as he then was) stated in Miller v. Minister of Pensions (1947) 2 All ER 372, 373: “does not mean proof beyond the shadow of doubt. The law would fail to protect the community if it admitted of fanciful possibilities to defect the course of justice. If the evidence is so strong against a man as to leave only a remote possibility in his favour which can be dismissed with the sentence ‘of course it is possible, but not in the least probable’ the case is proved beyond reasonable doubt but nothing short of that will suffice.”
⦿ REFERENCED (OTHERS)
⦿ NOTABLE DICTA
It is conceded that circumstantial evidence is very often the best evidence. It is said to be evidence of surrounding circumstances which by undesigned coincidence is capable of proving a proposition with the accuracy of mathematics. It is no derogation of evidence to say that it is circumstantial. – Nnamani JSC. Lori v. State (1980)
But the circumstantial evidence sufficient to support a conviction in a criminal trial, especially murder, must be cogent, complete and unequivocal. It must be compelling and must lead to the irresistible conclusion that the prisoner and no one else is the murderer. The facts must be incompatible with innocence of the accused and incapable of explanation upon any other reasonable hypothesis than that of his guilt. – Nnamani JSC. Lori v. State (1980)
It is conceded that medical evidence is not always essential. Where the victim dies in circumstances in which there is abundant evidence of the manner of death medical evidence can be dispensed with. – Nnamani JSC. Lori v. State (1980)
In a charge of murder the cause of death of the deceased must be established unequivocally and the burden rests on the prosecution to establish this and if they fail the accused must be discharged. – Nnamani JSC. Lori v. State (1980)
The basic necessity before a verdict of guilty in a criminal charge can be pronounced is that the jury are satisfied of the guilt of the accused beyond all reasonable doubt. – Nnamani JSC. Lori v. State (1980)
⦿ SIMILAR JUDGEMENTS