A Rivers State High Court sitting in Port Harcourt has sentenced to death by hanging on the neck, the serial killer, Gracious David-West, who murdered several ladies in some hotel rooms in Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor Local Government Areas.
The accused has been standing trial since October 21, 2019, for the murder of nine ladies and one attempted murder, alongside 2nd Defendant Nimi ThankGod, a Hotel Manager, charged for misconduct with the corpse of one of the victims found along Bende Street in Old Port Harcourt Township.
In a judgment that lasted over two hours, Justice Adolphus Enebeli, convicted Gracious David-West on a six-count charge of murder and one attempted murder out of nine-count charge leveled against him.
The judge said the prosecution could not lead evidence on count 6, 8, and 9 murder charges.
Justice Enebeli in his ruling said no amount of sentence or punishment can replace the gravity of the crime committed by the accused, stressing that Gracious David-West does not deserve mercy, grace, or to live.
The Judge thereby sentenced Gracious David West to death by hanging on the neck.
Justice Adolphus Enebeli discharged and acquitted the 2nd Defendant Nimi ThankGod, as Prosecution was unable to prove that there was any connection between the 1st and 2nd Defendants.
In an interview, Prosecution Counsel Chidi Ekeh, told our correspondent Tina Amanda, that the judgment will serve as a deterrent to others who are committing such crimes.
“The court has delivered its judgment and found Gracious West guilty. The court agreed with us that we proved our case beyond all reasonable doubt.
“The 2nd Defendant escaped by whiskers. It is not that she did not commit the offense she was charged with, but it was difficult to determine who exactly did, as the witnesses who would have provided evidence suddenly disappeared from the state till date.
“I feel so sad for any life that is wasted, the judgment will serve as a lesson to all people with such disposition, who are always taking to crime, for them to know there are consequences”
Vincent Chuku, Counsel to Gracious David-West, said until his client gets judgment from the Apex Court, they will not be satisfied with the judgment.
“The court has given its judgment, convicting the 1st Defendant. My client still has avenues to express his constitutional right under the constitution. If by the time our brief ends with the trial court, and we as his lawyers are briefed to pursue his constitutional right of appeal, we shall honestly do so to secure his required hallowed chambers of justice”
Lezina Amegua, Counsel to the 2nd Defendant Nimi ThankGod, thanked the court for discharging and acquitting his client while praying that prosecution will not challenge the judgment.
“Today we have gotten judgment that has incensed our confidence in the Nigerian Justice System. My client has been vindicated and we hope that the Prosecution led by the state Attorney General will not find the courage to challenge the judgment.
On her part, representative of the International Federation of Women Lawyers FIDA, Kemi Ogunaki, expressed happiness that the serial killer Gracious David West has been convicted of the murder of women.
She said the molestation, killing, defilement of girls, and women should stop.
Timeline of the Case
West was arrested on 19th September 2019 on his way to Akwa Ibom following public outcry over the murder of different girls in hotel rooms in Port Harcourt.
The Rivers State Police Command had said in 2019 that West killed a total of nine women while one was rescued alive.
West was arraigned in court on the 21st October 2019 on a ten-count charge bordering on rape, murder, and attempted murder.
The accused who did not have a lawyer at the time he was arraigned, pleaded guilty to 9 out of the 10 count charges leveled against him.
The trial Judge, Justice Adolphus Enebeli, based on the expedition of the matter, adjourned to 22nd October 2019 for the suspect to get a lawyer that will represent him in the case.
Justice Enebeli had stressed further that if West was unable to procure a lawyer, the court will have no choice but to provide him with one.
The court on the adjourned date appointed Vincent Chukwu to defend West. Chukwu expressed readiness to defend his court-appointed client.
David-West pleaded not guilty to the last charge of attempted murder of several female girls in Rivers State.
In one of the charges, the Police claimed that West “unlawfully killed several females in different hotels and guest houses in parts of Rivers State which is a punishable offense under section 319 sub one cap 37, volume 2 laws of the state, 1999 as amended.”
After the charges were read and the suspect taken his plea, Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice of Rivers State, Zacheuous Adangor applied to take over prosecution of the matter from the Police.
The State Government’s application was not opposed by the parties involved.
On the 18th of November 2019, Rivers Attorney-General, Zacchaeus Adangor, filed an application before at the High court requesting the withdrawal of the original charges filed by the Police against West.
The Attorney-General said the state will substitute the initial charges with fresh charges which will show proofs of evidence as required by law.
Adangor told the court that the fresh charges came up after the prosecution team studied the original charge sheet given to them by the police which he said indicated that one Nimi ThankGod ought to have been charged together with Gracious David West.
He, however, refused to state when Mr Thankgod was arrested.
The Attorney-General prayed the court to give the defendant time to go through the processes that were served on them.
He added that it will also give the prosecutor time to arraign the second accused person in court.
Vincent Chukwu, Counsel to one of the defendants, Gracious David West, also made an application to the court for more time to go through the processes served.
On the 21st of November, West made a u-turn and pleaded NOT GUILTY to a fresh 10-count charge of murder and attempted murder brought against him by the state government.
He was charged alongside Nimi ThankGod, General manager one of the Hotels where the corpse of one of the victims, Benita Etim, was found along Bende street in Old Port Harcourt Township.
ThankGod, who is said to be a cousin of a former Attorney-General of the state and a widow whose husband died a week before she was arraigned, however, pleaded not guilty to a one-count charge of disrespect to a corpse.
The state prosecution team said the 2nd Defendant is being charged for concealing the corpse found under the bed in their hotel room without making a formal report to the police or relevant authority.
“She is not charged for murder but for misconduct against a corpse, a corpse found under the bed in one of the rooms in their hotel.
“Rather than report to the police or any authority, what they did in that hotel was to conceal that fact, looked for a black nylon and wrapped the corpse and dumped it at a refuse dump along Aggrey Road.
“Meanwhile, the friends of the young lady that was murdered were looking for her. Unknown to the hotel, before the deceased left, she had informed her friends where she was going to. So her friends traced her to the hotel and the 2nd Defendant chased them away with claims that the deceased lady had checked out long ago.
“The deceased friends refused to go, that their friend has not returned home. While they were searching for her, they got information of a corpse lying at a refuse dump, they went there and discovered it was actually their friend that was murdered.
“Police did not charge the 2nd Defendant initially, but when we took over the Prosecution from the Police, the office of the Attorney-General of the state went through the Police file and read it from the beginning to the end and discovered that the 2nd Defendant needs to be charged”
But ThankGod told the court that on 18th September 2019, she only checked in Gracious West into one of the rooms in the hotel, stressing that no lady was murdered in their hotel room.
She said further that a lady identified as Benita Etim whom Gracious David West used a bedspread to tie her neck, hand, and legs to the bed in the hotel room he checked into, was rescued and later survived the ordeal.
ThankGod told the court that Benita Etim was giving a sum of five thousand naira by the Director of the hotel to report the case to the police.
West who opened his defense on the 15th of February 2020 after the prosecution closed their case with a total of eight witnesses, denied the ten-count charge of murder and attempted murder leveled against him.
He told the court that he was a technician who is into phones and computer repairs.
He also denied knowing Sergeant Ogbomudia Egbomukuro, a Police Investigating Officer attached to SARS who was among the Officers that arrested the suspect on his way to Akwa Ibom State.
West further said that the sixty thousand naira collected from him by the police, as at the time of his arrest in Bori-Nonwa Road, was the share he got from his father’s property located at 48 Evo Road, GRA, Port Harcourt.
But Chidi Ekeh, the Prosecution Counsel, said West denying knowledge of Sergeant Ogbomudia Egbomukuro is immaterial, adding that police work as a team.
He said: “We called a total of eight witnesses, the last was one of the Police Investigating Officer who testified on behalf of the Prosecution on their findings in the cause of investigation. The police are a team. You can be arrested by one Officer and another takes over. The 1st Defendant did not deny that he was not arrested by the police, but denied a particular person arresting him and of what effect is that?
“That same Officer by name Sergeant Ogbomudia Egbomukuro the 1st accused is denying knowledge of is the same person who recorded his statement. The Sergeant’s name is also in the accused’s statement, meaning the Officer is part of the Investigating team”
On his part, Vincent Chuku, Counsel to West, said the defense team is not worried whether the 1st Defendant pleaded guilty or not, as it is left for the court to prove his client’s guilt while claiming that the police Sergeant did not arrest Gracious West.
“It is material evidence which we must find out. Sergeant Ogbomudia Egbomukuro in his evidence in court said he belongs to SARS Rukpokwu. So how he was posted to Bori Road for the purpose of the arrest of the 1st Defendant is what we the Defence must know. We are not saying Gracious West was not arrested by the police, we are insisting that the Sergeant Ogbomudia was not among the Officers that arrested my client at Bori-Nonwa.
“Sometimes, the Defendant may not know the consequence of pleading guilty or not guilty. What we are dealing with here is a capital offense and the punishment is death. Even if the accused pleads guilty, he will not be presumed guilty, the court will still go on to review the evidence and find out irresistible facts that actually prove he is guilty, that is the law. That proceeding whether Gracious West is guilty or not is not before the court any longer, because the Prosecution amended their charges and what is the issue now, is the present proceeding that is going on”
Further denying the accusations leveled against him, West on the 21st February 2020 denied all the confessional statements he made at the office of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad office while being cross-examined.
West told the court that the SARS officers threatened him with guns to make the confessional statements, adding that the statements were not written nor signed by him.
He further told the court that the statements were recorded in six days and the statements were not read out to him at the end of each day
West stressed that he only signed the statements in the SARS Commander’s office on the 7th day in the presence of the Commander and other highly-ranked Police officers after the statements were read to him.
He told the court that the SARS officers also took him into a room filled with several dangerous weapons and lots of bloodstains while alleging that the officers threaten to kill him if does not confess. He further noted that he was hit severally with gun butts.
The suspected serial killer further testified that the SARS officers denied him access to his lawyer whom he claimed was chased away from the SARS premises and was also told that his client is not entitled to have a lawyer.
West denies being imprisoned for rape
On the 23rd of March, during the continuation of his murder and attempted murder trial, West denied that it was his face that was shown in video footage that led to his arrest on September 19th, 2019.
While being cross-examined by the Prosecution Counsel who played a video clip in court showing how the Defendant brought in one of the deceased ladies into a hotel located in the Trans -Amadi area and took her into the hotel room, denied his image on the video footage.
He claimed that the face on the video clip is not his.
West also denied a document presented by the Prosecution Counsel that contained a picture of him wearing the same cloth as the one in the video clip, published in a State tabloid, the National Network Newspaper.
The Prosecution Counsel urged the court to admit the newspaper and the video clip as evidence in court, which was objected by the Defendant Counsel.
The Prosecution Counsel, however, told the court, that West has once been sent to prison for stealing, rape, and kidnap.
West denied the allegation, claiming that he has never committed any crime, nor sent to prison for stealing, raping, and kidnap, but only went to prison due to family issues.
When asked by the Prosecution Counsel, if the killing of the ladies in hotel rooms was for ritual purpose or for self-satisfaction, West denied that he has no knowledge of what the Prosecution was talking about, as he never had anything to do in a hotel.
West exchange words with prison officials in court.
On the 29th of July 2020, Counsel to West brought a complaint to the notice of the court that his client was being assaulted in prison by Correctional Officers.
He described the situation as uncontrollable as West cried all the way to the court hall after receiving several slaps from one of the armed officers in the Squad of the correctional Centre.
The Ist Defendant when granted an audience by the court to speak, complained of having toothache and bleeding due to slaps he got from the Correctional Officers while demanding for a facemask.
When asked for an explanation, the Correctional Officer told the court that Gracious David West has become so unruly and his actions are now a threat to the Center.
It was also brought to the notice of the court, of a journalist who was assaulted by one of the Correctional Officers, while trying to establish his shot when the inmates arrived at the court premises.
The presiding judge cautioned the Correctional Officers to desist from assaulting journalists, as it is constitutional for the media to cover activities in court for the interest of the general public, adding that the media is a mirror to the state and the world at large.
Justice Enebeli further advised the correctional officers to use other measures of resistance on the Defendant rather than assault him, stressing that the Defendant still has rights until the court finds him guilty.
The Judge said the Defendant needs to be alive to finish his trial and face his sentence.
The Judge also offered to buy Ventolin (inhaler) for West when he brought it to the notice of the court that his inhaler has exhausted.
Final written addresses
On the 18th 2020, Vincent Chuku, Counsel West, prayed the court to discharge and acquit his client for the failure of the Prosecution to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.
He argued that the Prosecuting witnesses could not prove to the court that the 1st Defendant actually murdered the nine ladies and attempted to murder another one in hotel rooms in Port Harcourt.
He submitted further that the Prosecution did not present the Makers of the autopsy reports tendered in court, neither was his client shown the acclaimed items recovered from hotel rooms belonging to the victims until the trial began.
Counsel to Nimi ThankGod, prayed the court to discharge and acquit his client as Prosecution could not prove that the 2nd Defendant is guilty of the offence charged.
The State Prosecution Counsel, however, argued that the prosecution has beyond all reasonable doubts, proven its case through the CCTV footage that showed David-West lodging one of the deceased into a hotel, leaving her dead in the room.
He also submitted that they proved their case through the confessional statements made by the 1st Defendant to the Police, where he took the Nigerian Police to all the hotel rooms in which the ladies were killed.
He submitted that the 2nd Defendant admitted in court that the 1st Defendant lodged in her hotel with Benita Etim.
Gracious David-West’s counsel said the written address of the Prosecution was borne out of sheer sentiment.
“There are lots of lacuna in the proceedings lacking in evidence and its values. The Prosecution is only trying to whip-up sentiment in his final address and the Prosecution said a lot of things that the 2nd Defendant did not say.
” They failed to bring the medical pathologist who carried out the medical autopsy who is supposed to be cross-examined and cross-examination is the hallmark of proceedings in court”
Also speaking, Lezina Amegua, Counsel to Nimi ThankGod, prayed the court to do the most appropriate thing in the interest of justice to all.
“We rightly pointed out even in our submission that the Prosecution was not able to prove its case and for that reason, we prayed the court to discharge and acquit 2nd Defendant. We believe in the wisdom of the court and we are ready to also hold to the court position when that day comes”
On his part, State Prosecution Counsel Chidi Ekeh, prayed the court to convict the 1st and 2nd Defendants and impose the maximum sentence, as required by law.
“The court should believe our evidence and convict the 1st Defendant and if it does, it should impose the maximum sentence which is the sentence of death. With respect to the 2nd Defendant, hers will not be a sentence of death if she is found guilty, but two years imprisonment for the misconduct of dumping one of the victim’s body in a refuse dump along Aggrey Road, Port Harcourt.
“We have proved that certain people were dead, we have proved that the deaths did not occur naturally, we have also proved that their death came as a result of the act of the 1st Defendant, who in his own extra-judiciary statement confessed to the crimes”
Additional reporting by Okenyi Kenechi