Drug trafficker gets reprieve one day before execution

Ghanaian to apply for re-sentencing after more than 6 years on death row

JUST a day before he was set to be hanged for trafficking 2.6kg of cannabis, Ghanaian Chijioke Stephen Obioha agreed to a last-minute reprieve which may save his life.

The 38-year-old, who was set to be executed today after being on death row for more than six years, finally said yes to being considered for re-sentencing.

After legislative changes to the mandatory death penalty came into effect in 2013, judges can impose a life sentence for drug couriers who satisfy certain criteria.

The Court of Appeal yesterday gave him a month to file the application. "I changed my mind because I want to live," said the burly man, who was flanked by guards in bulletproof vests.

In the past, he had repeatedly rejected the re-sentencing option which was given to more than 30 prisoners on death row, claiming it amounted to accepting that his conviction was correct.

Obioha, who said he came here in 2005 to try out for a football club, was arrested in April 2007 by anti-narcotics officers who found 14 blocks of vegetable matter in the bag he had with him.

The officers escorted him to his rental flat and found another 14 blocks in various bags.

In December 2008, after a 21-day trial, he was convicted of trafficking in 2.6kg of cannabis and given the then-mandatory death penalty.

In August 2010, his appeal was dismissed. His petition for clemency was rejected last month.

On Monday, his lawyers, who were discharged in February, were notified that he was seeking a stay of execution to allow further evidence to be introduced.

On Tuesday, Mr Manoj Nandwani and Mr Peter Ong were re-appointed as his lawyers. The next day, they filed the motion.

Obioha contended that the cannabis blocks were not checked for DNA, which would establish whether he had handled them.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Ng Cheng Thiam argued that this was a red herring as Obioha was raising this for the first time and the trial judge had found sufficient evidence the drugs were in his possession. During yesterday's hearing, Obioha changed his mind about the re-sentencing option.

This earned him a reprieve, while his request to introduce new evidence was rejected.

selinal@sph.com.sg