A High court sitting in Awka has discharged and acquitted the two remaining suspects standing trial for alleged involvement in the killing of worshipers in a church in Ozubulu, Anambra State.
While delivering his judgement, which took more than three hours, Justice Fidelis Aniukwu ruled that the prosecution counsel was unable to prove the allegations levelled against Chinedu Akpunonu and Onyebuchi Mbanefo, the defendants, beyond reasonable doubt.
Unknown gunmen had on August 6, 2017, invaded St Philips Catholic Church, Ozubulu in Ekwusigo Local Government Area of the state, and killed not less than 13 of the worshippers.
In December 2018, the Judge had discharged two out of the four persons arraigned before a High Court in November 2017 following the church attack, Justice Aniukwu arguing that the prosecution witnesses could not provide any evidence linking the defendants with the murder as alleged.
It will be recalled that Chinedu Akpunonu (a.k.a Obrocha), one of the alleged masterminds, had allegedly owned up to the crime in a conversation with Okechukwu Ikenna, his counsel.
In the conversation, made public when the case first started, Chinedu, who was reported to be the gang leader of a fraternity known as the 'Great Men', had said said their target was the bishop.
"Our target was Bishop," he had said.
"I sent my boys to get me Bishop, and when they went to his house and could not find him, they decided to check him in the church and after they realised Bishop had left the country back to South Africa they resorted to killing members of his family which resulted in the careless shooting in the church. The boys overreacted."
Reacting to Monday's judgement, Festus Kayemo (SAN), the defence counsel, described it as landmark in view of the accelerated hearing granted by the presiding Judge.
Kayemo, who was represented in court by Samuel Echeakputa, however said he would not be surprised should the judgement be appealed.
“It’s the prosecution’s right to appeal the judgement," he said. "But from what I witnessed in the court today, it will be very difficult for the appeal court to upturn the judgement."
Chinedu Akpunonu, one of the defendants, could not conceal his joy; he was full of gratitude to God for vindicating him from what he described as attempt by some persons to smear his reputation.
He said he had forgiven his accusers, urging them to join hands to ensure peace reigned in the community.
"From the beginning, I told my people that I was not involved in the killing. But the Lord gave me victory as a proof that I’m very innocent," he said.
“I didn’t know I was very important to my people until I saw excitement in the faces of crowd that came to court. I’ve already forgiven all that put hands to put me in prison. I thank those that stood by me throughout my travail. I also thank my lawyer and the Judge for delivering a fair and sound judgement.”
Meanwhile, Mr Jay Jay Ezeuko SAN, the prosecution counsel, said he would determine the next move after receiving a copy of the judgement.