An Enugu State High Court has sentenced Chiamaka Ifezue, the killer of Ijeoma Nweke, an Enugu-based make-up artist, to death by hanging, three years after the incident.
The corpse of the make-up artist was found in Maryland within Enugu Metropolis on November 16, 2020, after she left home on November 11, 2020 for a job but went missing afterwards.
Her supposed client, having refused to disclose the location for the job, asked the deceased to stop at the Enugu State Broadcasting Service (ESBS) bus stop, where she would be taken to the venue.
Nweke, having perceived foul play, sent the client’s phone number to her brother via text message. Her phones were unreachable afterward leading to suspicion that she might have been kidnapped.
This led to a frantic search for her by friends and relatives until early morning on Monday when her corpse was found at Maryland in Enugu.
Eyewitnesses said that her corpse was mutilated with a substance suspected to be acid.
In a judgment that lasted for two hours on Wednesday 7th, the presiding judge, Justice Kenneth Okpe, found the accused guilty of killing the victim, noting that it resolved the issue against the defendant by the evidence placed before the court.
Okpe said that the court is unable to see the evidence that would have been against the prosecution’s case if the body of the deceased was exhumed and autopsy conducted.
“I, therefore hold that the argument and submission in that regard was misconceived.
“In the whole, I hold that the prosecution by cogent and credible evidence proved the case against the defendant beyond reasonable doubt and as required by law. Accordingly, I hereby find the defendant guilty of the offence of murder.
“The defendant was in Count 2, charged under Section 274(1) of the Criminal Code Law of Enugu State Cap. 30, Revised Laws of Enugu State, 2004, which prescribed death sentences as punishment.
“This court cannot, therefore, notwithstanding the plea for mercy, return a lower sentence. In Lucky v. State (2016) LPELR-40541 the Supreme Court warned that where statute has prescribed mandatory sentences, the trial court will lack the power to exercise discretion. It must return the prescribed punishment.
“But before I do that, let me state that this defendant, though having a gentle mien, has a heart of steel. She carried on through the trial with a sense of fulfillment that the mission was accomplished and that her freedom was a matter of time.
“There was no remorse shown from the beginning of trial till judgment day. Not even on the day the then 2nd defendant was discharged on the application of no case to answer did she feel bad.
“Of course, her counsel also did not help matters that day with their boast in open court, to immediately appeal against the ruling as it affected the defendant, shortly after the ruling was delivered. The main appeal and application to the governor for pardon are options now available to the defendant.
“Meanwhile, I hereby sentence the defendant, Ifezue Chiamaka, to death by hanging until she is dead. May God have mercy on her soul.”
Counsels for the defendant, Mr. Chuma Oguejiofor and N. Aro, had pleaded with the court to temper justice with mercy, particularly as the defendant is a young person and a first offender.
However, counsels for the state led by the Director, Public Prosecution, Ngozi Okoye, agreed that there was no evidence of previous conviction against the defendant but reminded the court that in the circumstance of the case that the sentence is mandatory.
Chiamaka and her brother, Chukwuemeka Ifezue, were arraigned before the court in 2021 on two counts bordering on conspiracy and murder.
During the trial, Justice Okpe discharged Chukwuemeka of the crime, saying there was no evidence linking him to the crime.
The prosecution counsel from the Department of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Ms. Chinelo Chigbo, welcomed the judgement.
She said that the prosecution relied on the doctrine of last seen to prosecute the case, adding that the late make-up artist was last seen with Ifezue.
According to the counsel, the convict “offered the pharmacist she bought a drug she used in killing Ms Nneke from, £100 to silence him”.
Chigbo said “unfortunately for Ifezue, the pharmacist collected the money and still testified against her in the court.”
Chigbo said the defendant was charged with murder, which is contrary to section 274 of the Criminal Code laws of Enugu State.
“The defendant was charged with murder and what we relied on was the doctrine of last seen because Ifezue was actually seen with the deceased prior to her death,” the DPP lawyer said.
She said that the defendant (convict) was brought to court to tell the court how the late make-up artist was killed.
“What we established in the court is that she was last seen and the circumstances linking her alone, which point irresistibly to the conclusion that the defendant is the one who killed the late Nneke,” she said.
The counsel said the defendant had an MTN number but didn’t use that line to call the make-up artist before the incident.
According to her, the convict planned the murder.
The counsel said Ifezue had instructed their domestic help to register a SIM card in his name.
“That was the SIM card she used in making the call, claiming to be Nkiru.
“That evidence was tendered before the court, and even when she was making a claim that it is one Nkiru; but unfortunately, she was not able to get that Nkiru.
“The prosecution had to write to 9mobile, the network providing the SIM card and they gave us everything showing that the SIM card was registered by the house boy (domestic help) and not Nkiru,” the counsel said.
Reacting to the judgment, the elder sister of the late make-up artist, Aku Nneke said her family was happy and satisfied with the ruling.
She added that justice had been served to the suspect.
Nneke said, “Though the death sentence will not bring back my sister, the judgment is a huge consolation for our family, who have been in mourning over her gruesome murder.”