Former Death Row Prisoner Freed After 13 Years in Detention
After 13 years on death row, as a result of a series of miscarriages of justice, Solomon* is finally free and trying to rebuild his life again.
Solomon, along with 3 others, was charged with murder in 1999 at the height of the civil war. After 4 years in detention, Solomon’s case was finally heard in 2003. After a 2-day trial, Solomon was found guilty and sentenced to the mandatory death sentence for murder. During the trial, Solomon was represented by a State-appointed lawyer. However, the lawyer was poorly paid by the State and so was unable to sufficiently prioritise the case or carry out all the necessary investigatory work needed. Following his conviction, Solomon was not informed by the Judge of his right to appeal.
Fortunately, a prison welfare officer in Pademba Road prison kindly helped Solomon file an appeal in 2003. However, it was not for another 3 years that an appeal hearing was scheduled only then to be adjourned indefinitely. Solomon could not afford a lawyer to represent him and no lawyer was willing to take up his matter as a State-appointed counsel. Fortunately, in 2011 Solomon met Simitie Lavaly, a lawyer and Legal Officer at AdvocAid. Ms Lavaly had successfully represented several women on death row and decided to take on Solomon’s case pro bono, seeing the injustice in the case. She ensured that the appeal was reheard again in 2011, 8 years after it was first lodged.
In 2011, Solomon’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment during Sierra Leone’s 50th Independence Anniversary celebrations. Although Solomon was relieved that he did not have the threat of death hanging over him every day, he still faced ending his life behind prison walls, separated from his family.
Finally, in September 2012, the Court of Appeal issued its judgment, ruling that Solomon should be acquitted and discharged from prison. By then Solomon had becoming the longest serving convicted murderer, having spent over 13 years in detention and 8 years and 5 months on death row/ life imprisonment. He was aged about 23 years at the time of his detention and thus has spent half of his productive life behind bars.
His two younger sisters were present in court when their brother was acquitted and discharged. They had brought their young children with them to see their uncle. They could not believe the good news and thanked the Judges and lawyer for finally allowing them to be reunited with their brother.
Today marks World Day Against the Death Penalty. Though Sierra Leone has made many positive steps, much still needs to be done to ensure that other people, such as Solomon, do not waste years of their lives behind bars and their families do not suffer emotionally and economically. AdvocAid urges the Government of Sierra Leone to:
- Abolish the death penalty, in line with the Truth and Reconciliation’s recommendations and the practice of many countries in Africa, such as Liberia, Rwanda and Burundi.
- Fully implement the recently passed Legal Aid Act to ensure greater access to justice, especially for those charged with serious offences.
- To pass the Criminal Procedure Bill 2010, to improve the efficiency of the criminal justice system.
- Support civil society organisations who are delivering legal services, legal education and after care services for ex-prisoners.
- Provide post-prison support programmes for long term ex-prisoners to receive counselling and rehabilitation services prior to being returned to their communities.
AdvocAid is a civil society organisation which provides access to justice and strengthened rights for girls and women in conflict with the law. We have provided legal representation for several girls and women on death row as well as welfare, rehabilitation and after care services. F
or more information, please visit www.advocaidsl.com or our Head Office, 1st Floor, 39 Liverpool Street, Freetown, 033 572526.
* Name changed to protect his identity
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