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The defense of the accused in a death of a baby

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Junior, a 14- year-old boy, was charged in a court of law with murder, when a two months old baby girl was found dead in the home of her parents at 2am on the night of July 22, 2021.

Junior was a student on holiday living with his aunt in the neighbourhood and was the last person found in the house, when the body of the baby was discovered.

The baby’s grandfather had been buried two days earlier and there was a funeral at the homestead that had attracted many relatives. 

The mother reported that when she went into her house to breastfeed her baby, she saw a person coming from the net and identified the person as Junior and inquired from him what he wanted from her house.

He responded that he had wanted to sleep, but he was now leaving. However, she testified that when she lifted the baby from the bed, the baby was unresponsive and was declared dead.

An investigating officer told court that when they took the body to the mortuary, he did not see any physical injuries, specifically, there were no injuries to the neck. A medical officer carried out a postmortem examination on the body the following day.

The doctor reported that, externally, he found a ligature mark on the middle part of the neck. According to the doctor, a rope was used to strangle the baby. The doctor also reported the gaping of the anal opening, although there was no bleeding or wounds in the anus.

He further said the vaginal canal was open with no hymen and concluded that there must have been interference with the vaginal canal, as the hymen was open up to the cervix, which is abnormal for a baby. He added that the anal canal was penetrated as well, although he acknowledged that there was no bleeding.

Junior was taken through a voir dire examination when he was taken to court. The phrase voir dire literally means to speak the truth. In court, it refers to the process of determining the competence of a witness, especially one considered a minor.

Junior was found to have sufficient intelligence to understand court proceedings and to tell the truth. He, however, did not understand the meaning of an oath and, therefore, could not be sworn.

Junior, in his unsworn evidence, stated that he did not kill or strangle the baby. He, however, admitted that he was in the house, where the baby was sleeping. He told court he was one of the mourners at the funeral.

He testified that when he got into the house, he got a seat, placed it in a corner and then sat on it to rest.

Shortly after, the mother of the baby entered the house and told him to get out of her house, which he did and went to the bonfire to continue warming himself.

Junior testified that the mother of the child then took out the child and removed all the baby’s clothing and then screamed saying that he, Junior, had defiled and killed the baby.

He told court that the crowd started beating him and this made him run away into the bushes. He testified that he escaped because he feared being killed by people who had surrounded him.

He stated that he stayed in the bushes for a while before he went to his aunt’s place at dawn. His aunt asked him what he had done to the baby. He also testified that motorcyclists arrested him in the morning and took him to the police station.

Court noted that Junior was very confident when he testified in court. In court Junior reasoned that if he indeed had defiled and then killed the baby, he would not have been found in the house and would not have stayed in the homestead warming himself at the bonfire but would have escaped.

During cross-examination, Junior admitted that he did not ask for permission to enter the house and sleep there. He also reiterated that people held him and slapped him after the mother of the baby accused him of defiling and killing the baby. He again stated that he ran away when he was surrounded and slapped.

Junior’s lawyer submitted that the postmortem report was inconsistent with the rest of the evidence adduced before court and that these inconsistencies should be resolved in favour of the accused.

All the witnesses, save for the doctor, stated that they did not see any injuries on the body of the baby; there were no physical marks suggestive of strangulation seen on the body.

The investigating officer told court that he went to the scene-of-crime and that there was nothing to suggest that there was any object such as a rope used to commit the alleged crime.

The lawyer further submitted that the only reason for suspecting that Junior murdered the baby was because he was found in the house at the time the body of the baby was discovered.

However, Junior denied defiling and killing the baby, but frankly admitted that he was at the funeral and had gone to the house to sleep, when he was discovered by the mother of the baby.

The lawyer also submitted that the prosecution had failed to discharge the burden of proof that Junior, beyond reasonable doubt, had intentionally killed the baby. The prosecution had not placed any evidence before court to point to the guilt of the accused. 

The decision to charge Junior with the offence of murder was purely based on suspicion informed by the fact that he was in the house where the deceased was discovered dead but that suspicion cannot infer guilt.

To be continued