Why The State Might Fail In The Ya-Na Appeal

The Ya-Na Verdict: A Death of a Local Justice or a Photocopy of the 1888 “Jack the Ripper” Killings in East London?

OmanbaPa Research Group


It is not sufficient for a prosecution to argue for murder for the sake of it where an investigation was not conclusive of the *identity of the Victim, nor was a *DNA examination conducted to prove that the body was that of the V. In law, the death of the V must be *proven beyond reasonable doubt, especially in the *absence of a death certificate. If the prosecution *failed to prove that the charred remains were the body of the Victim, then the Defendant could not be *held liable for the offence. Justice E.K. Ayebi’s imputations here are that he who asserts a wrongdoing in matter which involves the taking of life of a human being with the desired goal of seeking culpability and severer form of punishment which could be a corresponding sentence to death by hanging or firing squad, wields the burden of proof around her neck. Murder is a homicide crime defined as the intentional killing of one human being by another with malice aforethought. Malice aforethought under criminal law and here the killing of the Ya Na and others meant that it was intentional and premeditated. The premeditated being flagged here is that the actual period of time that the crime was committed, had to elapse between the orchestration of a plan to commit murder and its being carried out. It is said that today, most courts which obviously, includes Republic of Ghana, have broadened the meaning of malice aforethought to include all situations where the D can be said to have acted with malice.


Article 125(1)(3) of the 1992 Ghana Constitution states that “Justice emanates from the people and shall be administered in the name of the Republic by the Judiciary which shall be independent and subject only to this Constitution.” What then, do you make out of the Ya-Na Trial: A Death of a Local Justice? Yes, to be able to dispense sound rulings our learned judges, we are told, are tutored to be open-minded. So can’t we find the Ya Na’s murderers? Asante Fordjour at JusticeGhana.com puzzles.

The Legal Principle in the Ya Na CASE

On 29 March 2011, Justice E.K. Ayebi, ruled in the matter concerning the murder of Ya Na and the alleged 40 others as follows: “It was not sufficient for the prosecution to say that a Victim was *dead and leave it at that. Even the investigation was not conclusive of the *identity of the charred body, nor was a *DNA examination conducted to prove that the body was that of the Ya-Na…. In law, the death of the Ya-Na must be *proven beyond reasonable doubt, especially in the absence of a death certificate. If the [Attorney-General]] Prosecution *failed to prove that the charred remains were the body of the Ya-Na, then the accused persons could not be *held liable for the death of the Ya-Na.”


The Ya Na’s case raises an issue of how possible a traditional leader, alongside “29 or 40” others, could be murdered in a broad-day-light but without a shred of credible witness to advance the cause of justice. Judges, we are told, are to administer justice based on facts and evidence put before them- both by the Prosecution and the Defence. How then, could we expect justice where the crucial evidence that the jury might rely on are poorly gathered or preserved? Indeed the Ya Na Case represents not only a death or a failed local justice but also, the true manifestation of the challenges that confront state policing and intelligence gathering in Ghana. In my measured judgement, these illusions, are nothing short of the characters painted in the ‘Ripper’s killings that took place in 1888 at the impoverished region of Whitechapel, East London. Here; both the politicians, the police, the press and the public, in one way or the other, helped the killer(s), to evade arrest and apprehension.

The Ripper Killings In London

“Jack the Ripper” is the best-known name given to an unidentified serial killer who was active in the largely impoverished areas in and around the Whitechapel district of London in 1888. According to the Encyclopaedia Wikipedia the name originated in a letter written by someone claiming to be the murderer that was disseminated in the media: “The letter is widely believed to have been a hoax, and may have been written by a journalist in a deliberate attempt to heighten interest in the story. Other nicknames used for the killer at the time were “The Whitechapel Murderer” and “Leather Apron”. Attacks ascribed to the Ripper typically involved female prostitutes from the slums whose throats were cut prior to abdominal mutilations. The removal of internal organs from at least three of the victims led to proposals that their killer possessed anatomical or surgical knowledge. Per the report, from The “From Hell” letter, received by George Lusk of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, included half of a preserved human kidney, supposedly from one of the victims.”

Although the ‘Ripper’ murders remain unsolved by the Scotland Yard, it is suggested that the police’s failure to arrest and prosecute a suspect for the Whitechapel murders does not mean that they did not work hard to capture a killer of the prostitutes. “They worked hard and explored all leads and possibilities but their techniques were unfortunately, limited.” This explains why in the 1880s and even in this technological advancement, the British Police Force, has failed in their bid to have clues to the ‘Ripper’ murders. The lessons or say inferences that could be adduced from the Jack the Ripper murders in relations to the said Ghana’s unresolved killings and disappearances are that the continual change in police personnel meant that experienced officers were transferred unnecessarily. This halted the progress of the ‘Ripper’ case and a direct result of press interference.


It is said that reading a book or a newspaper report could be scarier than watching a movie. This is because our imaginations can conjure up the most horrifying images. Yet researchers on the Whitechapel killings are in agreement that it is this very idea that British Press used to capture the attention of Britain’s upper and middle class readers in 1888, especially, in relation to the description of how the ‘Jack Ripper’, chose the London prostitutes: Martha Tabram, Polly Nicholls, Annie Chapman and Elizabeth Stride, from Whitechapel. To have better understanding of the Ripper killings, the OmanbaPa Reaserach Group has culled the following Reactions of Visitors to Whitechapel from Draper’s Academy’s Learning Materials for reconsideration: One person wrote:

“The east end is a vast city, a shocking place, an evil collection of slums that hide human creeping things; where filthy men and women live on gin, where collars and clean shirts are unknown; where every citizen wears a black eye, and never combs his hair. The east end is a place which is given over to the unemployed.” Consider this one too: “Every room in these rotten and reeking tenements houses a family, often two. In one cellar a sanitary inspector reports finding a father, a mother, three children and four pigs. In another room a missionary found a man with smallpox, his wife just recovering from her fourth confinement, and the children running about half naked and covered with dirt. Here are seven people living in one underground kitchen and a little dead child lying in the same room.” To another the main thoroughfares of Whitechapel are connected by a network of narrow, dark and crooked lanes and where everyone, apparently containing some headquarters of infamy and where as it was then described sights and sounds are an apocalypse of evil.

Another research had this to say: “My informant demanded at that time that the police force on the spot should be strengthened and some kind of order created on the streets by night. He warned that murder would ensue if matters were left as they were. He was refereed from one police officer to another, but without making any impression. Then came the first murder. He went again to the police and warned them that there would be more mischief unless they could clear the streets of the open and defiant ruffianism, which continued to make night hideous. Then came another murder.”

For example, on 10 November, 1888, the London Times had this graphic description of one of the ripper’s murders: “The stomach and abdomen had been ripped open, while the face was slashed about, so that the features of the poor creature were beyond all recognition.” Thus whenever the press dramatised reports on fresh murder in such a way, the upper classes in society, felt unsecured. Yet the police never charged any suspect with the Ripper murders simply because they did not have sufficient amount of evidence that would have gained credibility in criminal court all because their search, as we might have deduced from the visitors’ view above, was focused on a particular group. In the words of Kershen, Anne J, in the mid-19th century, England experienced an influx of Irish immigrants, who swelled the populations of England’s major cities, including the East End. And from 1882, Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe and Tsarist Russia, also moved into Whitechapel area.

As in the Ya Na Case, the net effect of such erroneous perceptions illustrated above, ignited not only constant changing of officers working on the ‘Ripper’ murders but also loss of focus and attention. As a consequence progress eluded the police or the peelers as they were then known and called. So to most British readership the tales of “Jack the Ripper”, are well settled and therefore, might probably serve as an answer to why the murderers of Ya Na and indeed the said 29 or 40 others, not forgetting what Pratt, revealed to Peace FM’s Kokrokoo as many unresolved murders in Ghana’s history, including the 246 people alleged to have been vanished during PNDC era, cannot be found.

The Rippers murders was not only a racial matter but also, reflected the calibre and the image of the British Police at the time. So Pratt’s assumptions could be free-standing in that part of our world? In Great Britain, these presumptions or rather should we say advocacy or illusions generated an urgent quest for a new police force because of the police’s inability to translate their “leads and clues” for credible evidence for arrest and apprehension. Research shows that whereas the middle and upper classes at the time welcomed the necessity for what was termed as the New Police, most poor people thought that the police were only there to protect the rich. For this reason they were identified with names such as: “crushers”, “blue locust” and “blue drones”. People in poorer areas saw officers as an enemy whom it was right to kick and beat whenever that can be done with safety?


It is established both at law and at common sense that long before forensic science, apart from the perpetrator of a crime being caught directly in the act, or the suspect confessing voluntarily to the crime or from autopsies and taking statements from people who might know something about the crime, there can be little that the police could do to pin a suspect onto a crime. When officers are hunting for criminals, they may use DNA, fingerprinting and match forensic evidence to catch them.

In murder case there are four different states of mind that the courts consider to be evidence of an actor’s malice. According to criminal-Law.freeadvice.com, these are: (1) an intent to kill (2) an intent to commit grievous bodily injury (3), a reckless indifference to the value of human life, and (4) the intent to commit certain dangerous felonies, such as armed robbery. It is argued that malice aforethought may not be evidence in all situations of homicide, such as a homicide committed accidentally or in self-defense. “Murder differs from voluntary manslaughter in that the latter’s perpetrator intended not to kill the victim, and probably acted in the heat of passion. Murder differs from involuntary manslaughter in that the latter’s perpetrator had no intent to kill at all, but acted in a reckless or unreasonable manner.” Criminal-lawfreeadvice argues that an offender who runs a red light while driving and hits a pedestrian who later dies has acted in a reckless manner and is guilty of involuntary manslaughter. In law, the death of Ya Na and others had been argued as war situation.

Article 13 of the 1992 Ghana Constitution states that: No person shall be deprived of his life intentionally except in the exercise of the execution of a sentence of a ourt in respect of a criminal offence under the laws of Ghana which he has been convicted. Thus for there to be murder conviction two crucial elements must be established: the actus rea which in our case- are the dead bodies of the Ya Na and the said 40 others, as well as the mens rea- here, the mental state of the accused persons in relations to their intentions to murder their victims. These are indeed crucial legal requirements which as in the judgement of Justice Ayebi, the prosecution, failed to reconcile.

Supporting Justice Ayebi’s ruling, lead defence counsel Atta Akyea undermines the prosecution’s evidence to an extent that he reasons that even NDC General Secretary Johnson Asiedu Nketiah, would have acquitted and discharged the suspects if the ruling were the judge. Atta Akyea had told myjoyonline.com that it was fundamental that in a war situation it would be difficult, if not impossible to prove which bullet from an adversary hit the Ya-Na and in the opinion of JusticeGhana.com, the 29 or 40 others? Without condoning the killings, the lead defence counsel attacks the prosecution’s case as a “juvenile” trial in which the state intoxicated and driven by propaganda will haul 15 Abudus before court and in a most shoddy manner seek justice for murder of a king, when the facts on the ground pointed to a war situation. War has been generally defined as “politics and bloodshed” so Akyea finds as embarrassing failure where the prosecution witness- Brigadier Wadorani, tasked to conduct the autopsy to state confused the true ID of a charred body.

If this argument were to be admissible in evidence then its credibility has to fall on what type of weapon the perpetrators used in the killings of the Ya Na and others and at what range it was shot. This could in turn give us not only some clues and leads about the professional knowledge and skills about the murderers but also, the impacts of the bullets on their victims. It should be expected that if two opposing forces are battling it out for a control of a particular territory and here, over the Gbewa Palace, indiscriminate firing, rather than the ‘commando-type’ of incursion and destruction, can hardly be the norm. It is a fact that bullets wounds of a victim fired at 100 metres range, taking the type of weapon, normal climatic and environmental situation into account, would be more serious than a victim fired at say, 300m or 800m range. Indeed unless the killers of the Ya Nas were marskmen/women the precision at which they had their targets, deflates the war situation argument.

In the Rippers murders the attitude of the people at the time was that the police were incompetent and that Commissioner, Sir Charles Warren was only good for policing crowds and keeping order rather than detective work. To have better clues about a crime, we have to examine the evidence and make deductions. The useful things about evidence are that it allows the public, judges, the jury, and investigators to learn key details about past events. The alleged bodies of the Ya Na and the 40 others are useful because it provides facts about the murders, gives clues about the education of the murderers, and even if it was war it can help us to understand why the police had difficulty in arresting mysterious suspects in Ghana’s unresolved murders, including the killings of 35 women?


At law the state might be able to punch holes into the “DNA and war situation” arguments if it were to reintroduce video or photograph evidence of the fresh dismembered head of the late Ya Na. But with the emergence of digital revolution where for example, President Mills’ picture could be graphically, doctored as baby resting in the arms of family Rawlings, we advise that the Ya Na appeal must be open-minded and not to focus solely on murder conviction. It must proceed on balance of probabilities rather than arming the defence with witnesses whose past, might climax voir dire trial.

***Compiled By Asante Fordjour LLB(Hons), LLM International Law And Criminal Justice.


Written by

Gina is the Director of Health and Publisher, JusticeGhana Group.

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