In March, 2008, the JPC became involved in a case of rape that ended in a guilty verdict. The JPC’s part in the case was relatively minor, yet the case is significant because guilty verdicts in cases of sexual violence are so rare in Liberia.
The JPC’s involvement began when the parents of a rape victim called Anthony Thomas, one of the Zwedru monitors, to report the case. The 13-year-old girl was in the hospital. Anthony took Dorothy Nebo, the other monitor, to the hospital and they agreed that Dorothy, as a woman, would talk to the victim in the company of her parents. All parties, including the victim, agreed to report the matter to the police and cooperate with an investigation and prosecution.
The victim’s brother’s wife was the first to report the case to the police, but Anthony and Dorothy both followed up on it at the police station. Dorothy has a good working relationship with the county attorney of Grand Gedeh County and privately advised him of the gravity of this crime and the importance that he prosecute it in the pending term of court rather than schedule it in a future term. The county attorney agreed and did so.
As the case was pending trial, the alleged perpetrator bragged to the victim’s father that he would escape punishment for the crime because he had offered money to the judge. The trial was held, though not in camera, as is required for rape cases, because the judge’s chambers are tiny. Rather than try to keep the public out of the regular circuit court room in Zwedru, which is vast and exposed and has many offices adjoining it, the judge did not bother sealing it at all. (There is a common misperception in Liberia that in camera requires the trial to be conducted in the court’s chambers. We have documentation from UNMIL LJSSD that this is not the case, and that any room is acceptable. Surely another room in City Hall would have been preferable if the chambers were too small. We plan to spread the word about it at our next monthly retreat.)
Because the case was not held in camera, the JPC monitored the entire case. Anthony claims that the judge sent the jury into deliberations with instructions that it return with “a direct verdict of guilty.” Anthony explains these inappropriate instructions with his hunch that the judge had, in fact, been bribed, but later became worried about the attention surrounding the case, particularly after the defendant began bragging about the bribery, and worried what would happen to his reputation if the jury had returned a not-guilty verdict.
In any event, the jury returned a guilty verdict. The defense counsel has appealed the case to the Supreme Court due to the judge’s instructions to the jury.