House help murders his Madam (retired Chief Magistrate): His reliance on insanity was epic!

David Uche Ideh v. The State [2019] 6 NWLR (Pt. 1669) 479


A retired Chief Magistrate of the Ogun State Judiciary, Mrs. Olufunmilayo Timeyin (the Deceased) employed one David Uche Ideh (the Appellant) as house help. The deceased lived with her husband and son. One day, the house help was alone in the house. He used cutlass to break open the doors to the rooms of the deceased and her son and stole various valuable items. As he was about to escape with the items to sell them, he was apprehended and handed over to the Police.

The deceased Chief Magistrate decided not to pursue the prosecution of the house help as she discontinued her complaints to the Police. He was thereafter released from detention and was seriously warned not to step into the deceased’s house again.

Two days later, the house help found his way into the deceased’s premises and went straight into the room he had earlier occupied and slept there till the following morning, unnoticed. He remained in hiding and was watching the movements of the occupants of the house. The deceased who had earlier left the house with her husband and son returned alone and went straight into her room and locked the door.

The house help cleverly tapped the gate with the sharpened cutlass he was wielding. The gate was close to the deceased’s apartment. The unsuspecting woman opened her door to see who was at the gate. The house help pounced on her and dealt severe machete blows on the head, neck and other part of her body, murdering her in cold blood, as her voice faded away after screaming in anguish. On hearing noises at the gate, the house help made to escape by scaling the fence but was pursued, arrested and eventually charged to Court for murder.

Counsel Request for Psychiatric Examination

The house help and his counsel never raised any issue of insanity before the trial Court neither did the house help bring to the notice of the prosecution that he intends to raise the issue of insanity. However, eleven years after the house help was charged to Court and during the course of proceedings at the trial Court, Counsel to the house help made oral applications (on two different occasions) for psychiatric examination of the Appellant in a bid to advance the argument that the house help was of unsound mind and consequently incapable of making a defence. Counsel expressly stated however that he was not raising insanity as a plea.

The Law

The learned trial Judge refused the oral applications on the two occasions they were made. for lack of sufficient materials and reason. The Court was convinced that the house help was of sound mind and could stand trial. The trial Court subsequently convicted and sentenced the house help to death. His appeal to the Court of Appeal was dismissed. The house help further appealed to the Supreme Court. His Counsel contended that failure to subject the house help for psychiatric examination (pursuant to Sections 223 and 224 of the Criminal Procedure Code Law of Ogun State 2006) was fatal to the proceedings. The Supreme Court would have none of that. The Court was of the opinion that what the Court is concerned about is the state of mind of the accused at the time of the act. The apex Court upheld the position of the trial Court and Court of Appeal that there was no need to order psychiatric examination of the house help in the circumstance.

Meanwhile, the house help had in his defence tried to lay foundation of sanity which the Supreme Court considered fanciful. Hon. Justice Galumje, JSC reflected thus:

“When the Appellant gave evidence in his defence, he alluded to some fanciful stories of how he left his parents at the age of twelve years because of certain things that used to happen to him. He told the stories of how he used to scatter everything and people would run from him and that his father used to give him concoctions. He also narrated how he went to stay with his mother’s sister and did farming with his father’s brother at Oshogbo, but ended up destroying all the goods that his uncle’s wife used to sell like oil, gam etc. Although these stories seem to be a product of tutorials, they could have helped the Appellant if his parents, his mother’s sisters and his mother’s brother were called to testify for the defence in order to confirm the story that he indeed was unstable in the past. The Appellant’s failure to call these witnesses that witnessed his mental instability has rendered his evidence unreliable. If the application for psychiatric examination is meant to arrest the trial on the ground that the appellant was not mentally fit to stand trial by reason of insanity, Learned Counsel, as I have alluded to has not sufficiently provided the materials for the Learned trial Judge to act upon. The ipse dixit of a Counsel that his client is not mentally fit to stand trial and that such information was provided by the said client cannot avail the accused person. For evidence tendered by the accused is suspect and is not usually taken seriously for establishing his insanity.”

The apex Court was also of the view that Counsel to the house help was at liberty to properly plead and rely on the defence of insanity but failed. Instead, he went about it in a casual manner. Relying on Sanusi v. the State (1984) 10 SC 166 at 177, Galumje, JSC explained:

“For a Judge to institute an inquiry into psychiatric disposition of an accused, at the instance of his counsel, the Learned Counsel representing the accused must not be casual in presenting their case of insanity on behalf of his client.”

Aniagolu, JSC in Sanusi v. the State (supra) explained what being casual entails thus:

“There is a tendency for some Counsel to be casual in presenting their case of insanity on behalf of accused persons. Some tend to treat the matter as if all that was required to establish the defence of insanity was to allude to insanity as the accused’s defence and proceed to show how unreasonable and motiveless the action of the accused had been, leaving it to the Court to infer that anyone guilty of such behavior as the one committed by the accused could not but be insane. Such an approach to the defence of insanity is wrong.”

Indeed, the facts of this case is quite saddening. Similar stories are in frequent occurrence. Many a time, people unknowingly invite criminals and mischievous persons into their household to serve as aids. It is quite troubling how the house help could access his former room in the house and passed the night there unnoticed. Extreme care must be taken always to avert ugly incidences of this nature. It is completely heart-rendering to know that the deceased retired Chief Magistrate even showed mercy to the house help when initially arrested by withdrawing her complaints against him. Where did she go wrong? Perhaps the killer ought to have been allowed to face the full wrath of the law at the time. Galumje, JSC lamented:

“The Appellant has not denied that he killed the deceased. Despite the fact that the deceased refused to pursue the prosecution of the Appellant for the theft of her properties and those of her son and even went to the extent of pleading with the police to release him from detention, yet the Appellant had the heart to terminate her life in a gruesome manner on the ground that he had some outstanding unpaid salaries with her, calls for no mercy. The lower Court is absolutely right when it affirmed the conviction and sentence passed on the Appellant.”

The level of insecurity in Nigeria is generally alarming. No where is safe, really.



Stephen Azubuike
Author: Stephen Azubuike
Stephen is a lawyer with expertise in Commercial Dispute Resolution and Technology Law practice. He is a Partner at Infusion Lawyers. He has successfully argued cases from the High Courts of various jurisdictions to the Appellate Courts on behalf of financial institutions, other corporate bodies and multinationals. He has worked with a number of startup tech companies. He tweets @siazubuike.
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