The criminal trial of kidnapping kingpin, Chukwudumeme Onwuamadike, better known as Evans, and his accomplices took a new turn in court Thursday, as the suspects who had earlier pleaded guilty to a two-count charge of kidnapping and conspiracy preferred against them, changed their pleas to not guilty.
The Lagos State Government had on August 30 arraigned Evans alongside Uche Amadi, Ogechi Uchechukwu, Okwuchukwu Nwachukwu, Chilaka Ifeanyi and Victor Aduba before Justice Hakeem Oshodi of an Ikeja High Court.
Evans, Amadi and Nwachukwu pleaded guilty to the charges while Uchechukwu, the only female defendant, Ifeanyi and Aduba pleaded not guilty to the charges.
According to the prosecution, Evans and his accomplices committed the offence of conspiracy at 7.45 p.m. on February 14 at Obokun Street, Ilupeju, Lagos.
The prosecution said the defendants between February 14 and April 12 at Obokun Street, Ilupeju, while armed with guns and other dangerous weapons, captured and detained Mr. Duru Donatus.
The defendants were also accused of collecting a ransom of €223,000 before Donatus was released.
But while being re-arraigned on the amended charges Thursday, Evans and the co-defendants changed their guilty plea to not guilty after the amended charges were read to them.
In the amended charges, the defendants, who were remanded in prison by the court after the initial arraignment, are still facing a two-count charge on conspiracy and kidnapping.
The defendants who were originally charged under Sections 411 and 271(3) Criminal Law Cap C17 Laws of Lagos State 2015, are now being charged under Section 2(1) of the Kidnapping Prohibition Law, No 13, Laws of Lagos State 2017.
Unlike the State Criminal Law 2015, which prescribes 21 years for convicts, the Kidnapping Prohibition Law, No 13, Laws of Lagos State 2017 prescribes a death sentence if victims die in the custody of kidnappers.
Meanwhile, at Thursday’s proceedings, the Lagos State Government amended the charges it filed against Evans and the five others.
The Director of Public Prosecution, DPP Lagos State, Titilayo Shitta-Bey told Justice Hakeem Oshodi that the amendment relates only to the punishment section for the second charge.
The DPP also submitted that there is no material change in the nature of the offence which still remains conspiracy and the kidnap of one Dunu Donatus.
She urged the court to allow the defendants take fresh pleas to the amended two count charges.
Counsel to Evans, Olukoya Ogungbeje has opposed the move for fresh pleas.
He told the judge that he had only just been served in court this morning with the amended charge and he needed time to confer with his client.
He then asked the court to grant him a short adjournment so he could get a proper brief from his clients on how to proceed.
The other defence counsel except for the counsel for the 4th defendant aligned with his submission.
The 4th defence counsel, Mr Olanrewaju Ajanaku told the court that he was ready to proceed as there was no material change in the charges.