Justice Bassey Nkanang of the Akwa Ibom State High Court on Thursday sentenced Uduak Akpan to death by hanging for the murder of Iniubong Umoren.
Umoren, a graduate of Philosophy, University of Uyo, was killed on April 2021. She was job hunting while awaiting mobilisation for the compulsory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme.
Uduak’s father, Frank Akpan, and his sister, Anwan Bassey (2nd and 3rd accused) were discharged and acquitted.
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Finding Akpan guilty of rape in the over two-hour judgement, the judge said the prosecution has proved beyond doubt the case of rape and murder against Mr Akpan.
After the judge read out the judgment, the convicted rapist attempted to escape from the courtroom but was overpowered by security officials.
When the convict first appeared in court on July 26, 2021, he pleaded guilty to murder, but not guilty to rape.
Having admitted to murdering the victim, the court, however, entered a not-guilty plea for the murder of Ms Umoren.
“For a capital offence, an accused person pleading guilty is neither here nor there. As far as the law is concerned, he is not guilty until we (prosecution) prove our case,” the Attorney-General of Akwa Ibom State, Uko Udom, who led the prosecution team told reporters then.
“So, if an accused person pleads guilty in a capital offence like this, the court normally would enter a plea of not guilty for him.”
To the surprise of many, Akpan later made a U-turn during his trial and denied raping and killing Ms Umoren.
He told the court that he had a fever the day he pleaded guilty and that it was the influence of his Investigating Police Office that made him plead guilty.
The convict also denied the confessional statements he made to the police, stressing that a similar statement made to the Department of State Services (DSS) was done under duress.
But Ama Okeke, a call data analyst with the DSS, who testified before the court, presented a video recording of Mr Akpan’s interview session which countered his claims. The court admitted the video as evidence.
Presenting a call record analysis in court, the DSS official said Akpan and Ms Umoren were at the same cell record and coordinate (location) in Nung Ikono Obio in Uruan Local Government Area.
According to Okeke, investigations by the secret service led to the arrest of Mr Akpan’s sister, who is the 3rd accused person, Bassey-Awan, in Calabar, Cross River State.
Apart from his confessional statements to the police and the DSS, the convict told reporters how he lured and killed the victim while he was paraded at the police headquarters in Uyo.
In his testimony before the court to justify his son’s innocence, Frank Akpan, the father of the convict, told the court his son had a mental disorder and was an outpatient at the University of Uyo Teaching Hospital.
Having been lured out of her home in Uyo with a fake job interview by Uduak Akpan, the victim went missing on 29 April 2021.
Ms Umoren’s friend, Uduak Umoh, said she heard her scream for help when she established contact with her on the phone.
“She sent me a 1sec audio record on WhatsApp and I had to call her back to know if she wanted to say something to me but immediately I called her, I heard her screaming,” Ms Umoh had tweeted during the search then.
The situation forced several Nigerians to use the hashtag #FindHinyUmoren to help track the missing woman’s location or uncover the identity and location of the person she went to meet.
On April 30, 2011, Ms Umoren’s corpse was exhumed in a shallow grave by police operatives, a day after she was raped and killed at Akpan’s family compound.
Her gruesome murder sparked nationwide outrage and condemnation over increasing rape cases in Nigeria.