II n a split decision, a verdict was handed down today by a court in Lomé, Togo, that acquits Seventh-day Adventist pastor Antonio Monteiro and sentences Adventist Church member Bruno Amah to life in prison, a lawyer for the Adventist world church said. The decision by the Lomé Court of Appeals comes nearly 22 months after the two men and others were detained in March of 2012 on charges of conspiracy to commit murder.
In a case that has captured the attention of the global denomination, the two men, as well as three others, were detained nearly two years ago without trial and solely on the accusation of one man who was described as a “pathological liar” in a court-ordered psychiatric exam. That man, Kpatcha Simliya, who was also detained, was also convicted in this morning's ruling and sentenced to life in prison.
Todd McFarland, an associate general counsel for the Adventist world church headquarters, who was with the defense team at this weekend’s trial, said the ruling also included two other men—Beteynam Raphael Kpiki Sama, who was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison and fined 10 million CFA francs (US$20,800), and Idrissou Moumouni, who was acquitted.
The nearly two-year saga has been followed by millions of Seventh-day Adventists, who have held international prayer vigils, launched social media campaigns, sponsored letter-writing initiatives to government officials and diplomats, held press conferences and led a signature drive for a petition calling for the men’s release.
"We have mixed feelings about the decision of the court," said John Graz, Public Affairs and Religious Liberty director for the Adventist world church. "The acquittal of Pastor Monteiro is good news and we are happy for him and his family. We are surprised and very sad about the condemnation of Amah."
Monteiro, a native of the island nation of Cape Verde, had been serving as a missionary in Togo since 2009 as the Family Ministries director at the denomination’s Sahel Union Mission in Lomé.
The arrests and detentions unfolded following a string of homicides in September of 2011.
Depending on different newspaper and police accounts, more than a dozen bodies of women between the ages of 12 and 36 had been found in the northern Lomé suburb of Agoué. The bodies had stab wounds and some sexual organs had been removed. Blood and animal parts are often used in ceremonies of Voodoo, which is widely practiced in Togo.
When no arrests were made, the public demanded justice for the killings, church leaders said.
Simliya was later shown on television surrounded by police guards, telling the story of the series of murders he said that he organized and naming accomplices who collected blood and organs. But much of the story proved unlikely, including the number of victims and the methods used, according to Simliya’s medical examiner.
“Any informed and reasonable man would have doubts regarding his incredible outpouring or the feasibility of his crimes or supposed crimes,” a September 9, 2012, court-ordered psychiatric exam stated, which was viewed by ANN.
Simliya would later recant his accusation, saying he was beaten by police and forced to give names of people he supposedly knew were co-conspirators in a blood trafficking network, according to the psychiatric exam.
Still, his testimony—the only evidence in the case—was enough to bring convictions in today’s ruling. The jury that made the ruling consisted of three judges and six lay persons, McFarland said.
This morning’s decision was handed down at 5 a.m., McFarland said. The trial began Friday, January 10 at 8:45 a.m. and extended until 3:30 a.m. Saturday morning. The court reconvened at 11:45 a.m. on Saturday, and closing arguments ended at 11:30 p.m. that evening.
McFarland said Monteiro and Moumouni, the two acquitted detainees, will be released as early as Monday.