Determined to live, daughter-in-law to a former Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Maryam Sanda, has appealed against the judgement of a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory that convicted and sentenced her to death by hanging.
Maryam, who was on January 27, found guilty of stabbing her husband, Bilyamin Bello, a real estate developer to death at their Abuja residence in 2017, said she was denied fair hearing by the trial court.
In the 20 grounds of appeal, she lodged before the Court of Appeal in Abuja, the convict, accused the trial Judge, Justice Yusuf Halilu of bias, insisting that he relied on circumstantial evidence to sentence her to death.
She claimed that the trial judge was tainted by bias and prejudices that led to the violation of her constitutionally guaranteed right to a fair hearing.
In the notice of appeal that was entered by her team of lawyers led by Mr Rickey Tarfa, SAN, the appellant said her conviction was based on circumstantial evidence despite a reasonable doubt she said was created by evidence of witnesses.
She told the appellate court that there was lack of confessional statement, absence of murder weapon, lack of corroboration of evidence by two witnesses and lack of autopsy report to determine the true cause of her husband’s death.
Insisting that the trial court’s judgment occasioned a grave miscarriage of justice against her, Maryam Sanda, begged the appellate court to discharge and acquit her of the culpable homicide charge that led to her conviction.
She argued that the failure of the trial judge to rule on a preliminary objection she filed to challenge the charge against her and jurisdiction of the court to entertain same based on evidence of bias and lack of fair hearing she raised, rendered the judgement a nullity.
Maryam Sanda averred that “the trial judge erred in law when having taken arguments on her preliminary objection to the validity of the charge on the 19th of March, 2018 failed to rule on it at the conclusion of a trial or at any other time.”
According to her legal team, “The trial judge exhibited bias against the defendant in not ruling one way or the other on the said motion challenging his jurisdiction to entertain the charge” and “therefore fundamentally breached the right to fair hearing of the defendant.”
In ground 2 of the appeal, she argued that the trial judge erred and misdirected himself by usurping the role of the police when he assumed the duty of an Investigating Police Officer (IPO).
The appellate notes that the trial Judge said: “I wish to state that I have a duty thrust upon me to investigate and discover what will satisfy the interest and demands of justice.”
She submitted that the wrongful assumption of the role of an IPO made “the trial judge fail to restrict himself to the evidence adduced before the court” and instead went fishing for evidence outside those that were brought before the court.
She insisted that while “the duty of investigation is the constitutional preserve of the police, “the constitutional duty of a trial court is to assess the credible evidence before it and reach a decision based on its assessment.”
The convict argued that “the court’s usurpation of the duty of the police by taking it upon itself to investigate and discover, negatively coloured its assessment of the available evidence and resulted in it reaching an unjust decision contrary to the evidence before it.”
In ground 5, she argued that “the trial judge erred in law and misdirected himself on the facts when he applied the doctrine of last seen and held that the appellant was the person last seen with the deceased and thus bears the full responsibility for the death of the deceased, and thereby occasioned a miscarriage of justice.”
In the particulars of error in support of ground, the convict said there was “no evidence before the trial judge that the defendant was the last person who saw the deceased alive/since prosecution witness in his evidence before the trial judge stated that he was called by the deceased, he saw the deceased and asked the deceased what was the problem.”
She added that the statement of Sadiya Aminu, tendered before the trial court (who was initially charged as 4th defendant in the amended charge) also confirmed that the deceased was alive though injured when she saw him.
“The circumstantial evidence which the trial court relied upon in its application of the last seen doctrine does not lead to the conclusion that the defendant is responsible for the death of the deceased”, the convict added.
She, therefore, prayed the appellate court to set aside her conviction and the sentence imposed by the high court Judge and acquit her of the charge.
It will be recalled that trial Justice Halilu held that circumstantial evidence before the court as well as Maryam’s testimony during the trial and her statement before the police, established that she fatally stabbed her husband to death in Abuja on November 19, 2017.
The court ordered that the convict should remain at the Correctional Center in Suleja till she exhausts her right of appeal.
Police had in the charge marked CR/15/17 which is filed pursuant to section 109(d) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, alleged that Maryam stabbed her husband to death with a broken bottle, at their Abuja residence.
The prosecution told the court that Bilyamin died as a result of several stabs on his chest and neck.
Police maintained that the defendant attacked her husband with the knowledge that her act was likely to cause his death.
She was equally charged with the offence of “causing grievous hurt”, contrary to section 247 of the Penal Code Law.
Though her mother, Maimuna Aliyu, her brother, Aliyu Sanda and one Sadiya Aminu, were initially charged as a co-defendant in the matter, they were discharged by the court which held that they had no case to answer with respect to the murder charge.
The prosecution had alleged that Maryam Sanda’s family members attempted to destroy evidence that linked her to the murder.
Maryam Sanda who is the mother of two had denied the allegation that she killed her husband.