The criminal trial of kidnapping kingpin, Chukwudumeme Onwuamadike, better known as Evans, and his accomplices took a new turn in court Thursday, as the suspects who had earlier pleaded guilty to a two-count charge of kidnapping and conspiracy preferred against them, changed their pleas to not guilty.
The Lagos State Government had on August 30 arraigned Evans alongside Uche Amadi, Ogechi Uchechukwu, Okwuchukwu Nwachukwu, Chilaka Ifeanyi and Victor Aduba before Justice Hakeem Oshodi of an Ikeja High Court.
Evans, Amadi and Nwachukwu pleaded guilty to the charges while Uchechukwu, the only female defendant, Ifeanyi and Aduba pleaded not guilty to the charges.
According to the prosecution, Evans and his accomplices committed the offence of conspiracy at 7.45 p.m. on February 14 at Obokun Street, Ilupeju, Lagos.
The prosecution said the defendants between February 14 and April 12 at Obokun Street, Ilupeju, while armed with guns and other dangerous weapons, captured and detained Mr. Duru Donatus.
The defendants were also accused of collecting a ransom of €223,000 before Donatus was released.
But while being re-arraigned on the amended charges Thursday, Evans and the co-defendants changed their guilty plea to not guilty after the amended charges were read to them.
In the amended charges, the defendants, who were remanded in prison by the court after the initial arraignment, are still facing a two-count charge on conspiracy and kidnapping.
The defendants who were originally charged under Sections 411 and 271(3) Criminal Law Cap C17 Laws of Lagos State 2015, are now being charged under Section 2(1) of the Kidnapping Prohibition Law, No 13, Laws of Lagos State 2017.
Unlike the State Criminal Law 2015, which prescribes 21 years for convicts, the Kidnapping Prohibition Law, No 13, Laws of Lagos State 2017 prescribes a death sentence if victims die in the custody of kidnappers.
At Thursday’s proceedings, the prosecution led by the Director, Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP), Titilayo Shitta-Bey, informed the court that they had filed an amended charge against the defendants and served their counsel, adding that they were ready to commence trial.
But the defence counsel, Messrs Olukoya Ogungbeje, Joseph Otogblu and A.A. Ozogbu opposed the prosecution, saying that the prosecution had served them the amended charges only Thursday morning in court.
Except for Mr. Olanrewaju Ajanaku, counsel for the 4th defendant, other defence counsel prayed the court for an adjournment to enable them to confer with their clients and respond to the amended charges.
The defence counsel also told the court that they all had different applications pending before the court, which they argued will be overtaken by events if the trial should commence.
Responding, Shitta-Bey opposed the defence and urged the court to allow the charges to be read and for the defendants to take their fresh plea.
Shitta-bey argued that there were no material changes in the nature of the charges against the defendants.
Justice Oshodi, in his short ruling, screened the various pending applications of the defence and struck all of them out.
Subsequently, the defence counsel urged the court for an adjournment to enable them to respond to the amended charge just served on them.
Justice Oshodi, citing Section 36 of the Constitution, granted their prayers and adjourned the matter till November 3, 2017, for trial.