Source: Front Page Africa
Monrovia — The fight against drugs in Liberia is taking a more serious trend with the indictment of a Ugandan woman for drug trafficking.
Jurors returning from a long hour of closed door deliberation Monday found the Ugandan woman guilty of unlawful possession, trafficking and distribution of narcotic drug a crime of first degree felony in Liberia.
Before the jurors' verdict on Monday in an hour-long final argument, lawyers representing the state headed by Cllr. Serina Garalwolo asked the jurors to bring down the defendant guilty because she allowed herself to be used by an alleged drug trafficker.
"I have nothing against this girl, she allowed herself to be used therefore the ignorant of anyone about the law does not excuse you" said state lawyer Garlawolo.
In a counter argument the defense lawyer told the jurors not to convict the defendant because the state fabricated lies to convict the innocent girl because the security man who arrested her wanted promotion.
"Don't convict this innocent girl based on lies that was fabricated by the state, she did not commit the crime that she is being tried for therefore go and find her not guilty " said defense lawyers Atty. Jallah G. Zumo and Atty Elisha. T. Forkeyoh as the worried looking defendant Shirat looks on at the jurors sitting across the courtroom.
However the defense lawyers' plea of not guilty was rejected when the jurors came from the room of deliberation with a note that reads: "we the jurors do unanimously agree that the defendant is adjudged guilty of the crime" said the six jurors.
With the unanimous guilty verdict rendered by the six jurors, Presiding Judge Blamo Dixon have five working days to render a ruling in the case as required by law. Under current Liberia laws and practices one guilty of unlawful possession of drug trafficking and distribution has to bear the penalty of 10 consecutive years of sentence behind bars in a common jail.
Shirat Nalwadda 24 is the first foreign national to go on trial and convicted since the country began to experience drug trafficking along its ports of entry mainly at the Roberts International Airport. Several others, mainly foreign nationals amongst them Nigerians have been arrested at the airport jailed and pending prosecution.
Court record states that Shirat was arrested at the Roberts International Airport on November 30, 2013 with 1.2 kilograms of heroin valued at US$30,000 equivalent to LD$2m after her arrival from Kampala via Nairobi on board the Kenya Airwaves.
She told investigators upon arrest, according to the court record, that it was her first travel to Liberia and she has come to meet a boyfriend called Ekina whom she does not know, but was told by her girlfriend named Natutarya Laila in Zama, Kampala that Ekina would be at the airport to receive her upon arrival.
According to the court record, Shirat indicated that upon her arrival at the RIA, and subsequent arrest with the drugs, the defendant could not give the contact address or telephone number of the so-called boyfriend who she claimed was the owner of the drug she was carrying, leaving the investigators with no alternative but to charge her with drug trafficking.
Thereafter defendant Shirat Nalwadda was indicted by the grand jury of Montserrado County on December 11, 2013 on charges of unlawful possession, trafficking and distribution of narcotic drugs, but denied the charges when she appeared in court during the February term of court.
She told the court and the jury while testifying on her own behalf that she was innocent of the charges and that throughout of her life she has not come in contact with drugs and don't know it.
Shirat claimed to be a first year university student in Kampala and stated during her testimony that she came to Liberia in November upon invitation of a boyfriend who expressed interest to marry her after her arrival, she was checked at the airport in Uganda before departure and when she arrived in Liberia she was also checked on two different occasions and was told to leave, but while on her way a DEA officer asked her back to check again only for the officer to inform her that he had discovered drug in her luggage which was very strange to her.
According to her after the officer made the claim she was taken to another room where the officer asked her to take up her clothes and photograph her adding "it was my first time to see a male checking a female".
During the trial the prosecution produced three witnesses some DEA agents and lab technicians as well as sample of the drug in question while the defense counsel also produced three witnesses including the defendant herself.