When the justice system fails: the Eric Asante story

BY: Ajoa Yeboah-Afari
Ajoa Yeboah Afari
Ajoa Yeboah Afari

I imagine that some people, especially those who take an interest in the criminal justice system, have at one time or the other wondered what they would do if they were accused of a crime they didn’t commit.

Worse, what if despite vehement protestations of innocence one ended up in prison?

That is actually the nightmare that befell Eric Asante when he was accused of defilement and convicted.

However, last week, on January 26, Mr Asante was acquitted and discharged unanimously by a Supreme Court (SC) panel of five. His prayers were finally answered when a DNA test confirmed that he had not fathered the child born out of the alleged defilement.

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The following are some details from media accounts of this extremely harrowing story of Mr Asante’s wrongful incarceration and his unwavering determination to establish his innocence, despite having served the sentence.

From The Mirror:

  • Mr Asante, a teacher, was sentenced in 2005 to 15 years imprisonment with hard labour by the Tamale High Court after he was found guilty of having defiled one of his pupils, a 14 year-old named as Rubamatu Mohammed, which led to her pregnancy and the birth of a child.
  • In October, 2006, he put in an appeal against his conviction, but it was dismissed by the Court of Appeal.
  • However, in 2012, he proceeded to the Supreme Court which granted him leave to file a notice of appeal against his conviction.
  • The notice of appeal was followed by an application for a DNA test to be conducted.
  • The Supreme Court accepted the application and accordingly ordered the mother to make her child available for the DNA test at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital.
  • Although the court order was served on Rubamatu’s aunts who were then taking care of the child in Tamale, asking for the child to be brought to Accra within eight weeks for the test, the family refused to comply.
  • In February, 2015, the Supreme Court again ordered the aunts to make the child available for a DNA test, this time at the Forensic Unit of the Police Service.
  • In July, last year, the Police Forensic Unit told the court that the DNA test proved that Mr Asante did not father the child.

From the Daily Guide:

  • The child, a boy, is now 10 years old.
  • The SC panel, presided over by Mr Justice Kwasi Anin-Yeboah, held that there were doubts about Rubamatu’s evidence.
  • Last week, delivering the judgement, Justice Gabriel Pwamang noted that the trial judge would not have found Asante guilty if he had had the information now available to the Supreme Court.
  • Mr Asante’s lawyers had initially asked the SC to cite Rubamatu and two others for contempt for failing to make the child, a boy, available for the DNA test. Among other things, the application stated that the conduct of the family was “deliberate” because they knew very well that Mr Asante had never had sex with Rubamatu.
  • The court advised him to apply for compensation.
  • However, he is urging the Attorney-General to reopen the investigation into the matter because “there is a true culprit out there who committed the crime and connived with the lady to implicate me.”

From the Ghanaian Times:

  • Mr Asante said: “I am thankful to God and the Supreme Court judges for their wisdom and justice in my case.”
  • He added that a lot of innocent persons were languishing in prison as a result of wrongful sentencing by some judges and he appealed to human rights activists to assist them.
  • Mr Francis Xavier Sosu, a human rights lawyer, has been instrumental in the acquittal and discharge of Mr Asante, having taken up the fight to ensure justice for Eric Asante.

From ‘StarrFMonline.com’

  • The 40-year-old teacher blamed the lawyer who first handled his case for his predicament. As the girl had already given birth before the trial, he had asked the lawyer to request a DNA test, but the lawyer “did not pay attention to it,” he said.
  • Lawyer Sosu said they will apply for a GHc10 million compensation but it would not be enough to right his client’s wrongful commitment.

 From ‘Citifmonline.com’

  • After serving two-thirds of his sentence, Mr Asante, was granted bail by the Supreme Court in September 2015 based on good conduct.

The Eric Asante case reminds me of another story of wrongful incarceration, that of Francis Agyare whose case also made headlines in 2014. It was an equally mind-boggling case as he was wrongfully detained for 14 years before regaining his freedom.

Mr Agyare, had been arrested during a police raid at the James Town Beach, in Accra. He had gone there to buy fish, but one of the suspects had pointed at Agyare as an accomplice. Without any investigation to ascertain the veracity of the allegation, Mr. Agyare was charged with robbery.

In that case, too, the lawyer for the victim was Mr Francis-Xavier K Sosu.

Something Eric Asante said last week echoes what Francis Agyare said in 2014: “(that) there were countless other people in jail who did not deserve to be there but the system had made them convicts.”

The Asante, Agyare cases and similar ones may be only a mite in the justice statistics as most of the time the system gets it right. But even if it is only one instance in hundreds, it is still one too many.

It doesn’t bear thinking that anybody should be wrongfully imprisoned.

Thus Mr Asante’s request for an investigation to find out who actually defiled the girl is valid. It is important to find and punish the police investigators and other state actors whose attitude to work leads to such trauma for people, to serve as a deterrent.

Mr Asante deserves to be compensated by the state and without delay.

Also, the state needs to recognise the work of people like Lawyer Sosu and others working to protect the rights of the vulnerable when the system fails them. The ‘Justice for All’ programme needs to be funded and supported to free all those wrongfully incarcerated.

Furthermore, the institution where people seek justice should not itself be seen as being unfair to anyone through the negligence of some of the actors.