Frantic efforts by the General Overseer of the Christian Praying Assembly, Rev Chukwuemeka Ezeugo better known as Reverend King to have the death sentence hanging on him overturned hit the rocks on Friday as the Court of Appeal in Lagos, upheld the death sentence handed to him by the High Court. .
The Appeal Court stated in its ruling that the evidence provided by the prosecution during the trial was “overwhelming and damning” and that it proved beyond reasonable doubt that the appellant committed the crimes for which he was arraigned then.
While reading the ruling, Justice Akinbami stated that “the judgment of 11th January, 2007 is hereby affirmed.” The justices pointed out that after “painstakingly and meticulously” looking into the judgment of the lower court, it was discovered that rather than protecting his followers, Rev King was setting them ablaze. Justice Akinbami continued, “I must state that the conduct of the appellant was indeed sad and unfortunate.”
In his appeal, Rev King queried the admissibility of some of the evidence used against him at the High Court. For instance, the appellant’s counsel averred that the burns and other injuries shown at the High Court were injuries sustained from a generator fire which his client was not responsible for.
Reverend Ezeugo King had been condemned to death by Justice Joseph Oyewole of a Lagos High Court, in 2007, for murder of Anne Uzor, one of his female church members. Back then, the “man of God” faced a six-count charge of attempted murder of six church members and murder of one.
Sequel to allegations bordering on fornication, the victims were made to kneel down before the pastor, who directed that fuel be poured on them and later struck a match setting the six of them ablaze.
The High Court had adjudged Reverend King guilty on the first five counts of attempted murder and sentenced him to 20 years with hard labour on each count and the sentences were to run concurrently.
On the sixth count of murder however, Justice Oyewole sentenced him to death by hanging.
“The burnt injuries were from a generator accident and the appellant was not responsible for the said injuries,” Olalekan Ojo, Mr. Ezeugo’s lawyer, stated in his appeal. It was stated in the appeal that Rev King was not there at the time of the incident and he only rushed out after he heard the shouts of the victims. The lawyer also stated that the prosecution did not prove their case beyond reasonable doubts as there were conflicts in the evidences they gave before the High Court.
In their accounts of the night’s event, one of the witnesses said that after the fuel was poured on them, Mr. Ezeugo struck the match.
However, another witness said that the match box was brought to the pastor after his lighter failed.
In the ruling, Justice Akinbami it was immaterial whether the match was struck straightaway or after the lighter failed. “It is not every contradiction in the prosecution that will raise a doubt. For a contradiction to be material, it must lead to a miscarriage of justice,” she said.
Olabisi Ogungbesan, the prosecution counsel, said the verdict would serve as deterrence to other “so-called men of God who go about abusing their followers.”
Olalekan Ojo, the defence counsel however said his client would appeal against the judgment.
“I am sure that the appellant (Mr. Ezeugo), who has always maintained his innocence, who has always seen himself as a victim of vicious manipulation of a gang of reckless and mischievous persons, would want to go further in the judicial hierarchy,” he said.