The supreme court has discharged and acquitted Alban Ajaegbu, one of the suspects, accused of killing Ikechukuwu Okoronkwo, an 11-year-old, in Owerri, Imo state.
Okoronkwo, said to be a groundnut seller, was on lured into a hotel called Otokoko and beheaded for ritual purposes in September 1996.
The boy’s death sparked a riot that lasted for days, with enraged residents destroying property in the process.
In 2012, the Owerri division of the court of appeal upheld the decision of the trial court that sentenced Ajaegbu to death.
But that decsion was set aside by the apex court on Friday.
In a judgement, the five-man panel of justices led by Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, held that the prosecution has the burden to proof “beyond reasonable doubt that it was the act of the appellant that caused the death of the deceased.”
“The appellant does not have the burden to prove his innocence. The lower court held that the defence of the appellant raised a lot of suspicions,” the judgement read by Ejembi Eko said.
“The law is well settled that suspicion, no matter how grave, cannot take the place of proof.
“Suspicion cannot take the place of legal proof. That the appellant worked in the hotel for 17 years and didn’t know who owned the farm cannot make him guilty.
“The law is settled, that an accused person told lies does not make him guilty.”
The other four justices on the panel agreed with the judgment.