Trial Day 9: Summations and Jury Deliberations
The Jungle Jabbah trial wrapped up on Tuesday. The jury heard summations and began their deliberations.
The prosecution addressed the jury first, as is the procedure in all criminal cases. Assistant United States Attorney Linwood C. Wright, Jr. began by quoting the Emma Lazarus poem found on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty: “Give [us] your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free . . .” and focusing on the hope for new beginnings it instills in immigrants reaching for America. “But it doesn’t say give me your war criminal, your human rights violator, your persecutor,” he said. He went on to explain: “The reality is, there are some people who are just not supposed to be in this great nation of ours. Not in any way because of who they are, but because of what they’ve done. Perhaps because of what they’ve done on distance shores, in Bopolu, in Tubmanburg . . . in a foreign village called Dassalamu. That’s the reality. Not because of who you are but because of what you’ve done.”
Wright said that U.S. immigration officials act as a gatekeeper and someone who is seeking entrance into this country from another place has a choice: “Either to tell the truth, and depending on your activities abroad, risk exclusion; or lie, and risk prosecution.” He acknowledged that some might say that is a Catch 22. “But it’s supposed to be. It’s designed to be that way.” According to Wright, Mohammed “Jungle Jabbah” Jabbateh made a choice to lie during the process. “You risk exclusion if you tell the truth, but you risk prosecution if it comes to light. It came to light over the last few days.” He acknowledged that the jury had heard the unfathomable. “But the evidence shows that these things happened. As grotesque, as inhumane, as atrocious as they were, these things happened,” he said.
The prosecutor went on to explain the four counts that Jabbateh is charged with in the indictment: two counts of fraud in immigration documents, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1546, and two counts of perjury, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1621. He explained the elements of each crime that the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt. He walked through the specific questions on the immigration forms to which Jabbateh allegedly provided false answers and urged the jury to think back to the testimony of the immigration official who had interviewed him for his asylum application. “She believed him,” Wright said about the immigration officer’s perception of Jabbateh. “Now we know she was deceived.” The prosecutor reminded the jury that in addition to the written application, the officer testified that Jabbateh swore under oath during his interview that the information on his application was the truth. “She also asked Jabbateh if he had never committed a crime or harmed anyone else. He said ‘no.’ She told you that based on . . . what he said during that interview and what he swore to on that form, she recommended that he receive asylum here in the U.S. The evidence has shown that he wasn’t honest with her. That he wouldn’t tell about his activities.”
The prosecutor reminded the jury about Jabbateh’s representations on other immigration forms, where he claimed that from December 1992 - 1995, he was a member of the Special Security Service (SSS) in Liberia, the equivalent of the U.S. Secret Service. He read from the personal statement that Jabbateh had submitted with his application, in which Jabbateh claimed to have been trained by ECOMOG and later assigned to work at the Executive Mansion. “The evidence shows you that’s not true,” Wright argued. That lie alone, he said, may well have been enough for the official to say, “No, I’m not going to recommend him [for asylum].” The prosecutor told the jury that they could tell Jabbateh was lying about that fact based on evidence given by the SSS Director, including (1) that the SSS were trained by Israeli and U.S. agents, not by ECOMOG; and (2) that SSS agents had strict dress requirements and were not permitted to wear dreadlocks. “It’s like saying Bob Marley was [joining] the Nat King Cole Trio,” the prosecutor quipped. The jury also saw side-by-side comparison photos of actual SSS agents in uniform and the vastly different attire worn by Jabbateh in photographs taken during that period. Other witnesses corroborated that evidence, according to the government. The prosecutor reminded jurors that another witness had testified about sharing a house with his brother and Jabbateh in 1992 -1993. “He wasn’t a member of the SSS. He was in combat camp,” said Wright. The jurors heard how two journalists testified that they were frequently at the Executive Mansion during that time period and yet never saw Jabbateh there. In fact, one even took a photograph of Jabbateh during that period, prosecutors said. “We know where it was taken— Tubmanburg in 1993. That wasn’t the executive mansion [in Monrovia]—he wasn’t there.” Wright explained, “in his personal statement [submitted to immigration officials], he talks about being a linguist and then later participating in the peace process. But you have that gap—an intentional gap. A three year gap. What was he doing during that three-year gap? He was a combatant, he was a battalion leader, he was with Zebra Battalion.”
The prosecutor then turned to the long list of crimes that Jabbateh allegedly committed. He reminded the jury that witnesses from a range of ethnic groups—including Jabbateh’s own Mandingo tribe—had testified about things he did. “You heard . . . there were bodies lying in the streets, being eaten by dogs. You heard things were out of control. You heard from people who walked up to that witness stand and swore to tell the truth. They recalled the horror. And you saw how it affected them.”
Jurors heard how Jabbateh allegedly ate the hearts of his victims. Wright cautioned, “I don’t know whether eating someone’s heart is a crime, but murder certainly is. And that’s how they got the heart.”
Jurors were reminded again how Jabbateh and his soldiers would invade a town and overtake the villagers living there. “These were poor little towns. No running water. In the 90s, no way to communicate. And someone rolls into town with armed men. Look what happened in Las Vegas, with one guy shooting down with one gun. Imagine what would happen with multiple guys with guns.”
The prosecutor turned to the rapes Jabbateh allegedly committed or facilitated his soldiers to commit, including the following:
- Jurors heard again about Jabbateh ordering an attractive young woman to be his wife: “He says ‘you’re mine.’ What is she going to do? And he raped her. It was against her will. She went with him. She had to go. And he had sex with her over and over and over. He had come back from the front and did what he wanted to do and she didn’t have a choice.”
- Jurors were told about the miner’s fiancée who was summoned by Jabbateh’s child soldiers: “Jungle Jabbah and his boys come in and say ‘hey, the chief wants to see her.’ And there he is, helpless, emasculated, but he musters the courage to go with her. Remember that silver pistol—the same one he shot [another woman] with? [The miner] says ‘hey, this is my girl, she’s pregnant.’ . . . He was beaten by child soldiers. Some of them look like they’re 6 years old. Child soldiers who are armed. Lucky he wasn’t killed. And she was raped by Jungle Jabbah. She has medical issues, no hospital, no order, no law . . . she dies.”
- Jurors were asked to recall another miner who had moved from Lofa Bridge to Wayju, who testified about the rape of his friend’s wife.
- Jurors were reminded about the woman who was 13 years old when she was taken: “Jungle Jabbah told his men ‘hey, you want her?’ She was 13 years old, and given to an adult named Cobra Red. He raped her over and over. She had sores in her vagina. But Cobra Red kept going at her. Jungle Jabbah facilitated it. He gave the command. They were jumping up and down yelling ‘Jungle Jabbah! Jungle Jabbah!’ and he said ‘take her.’”
- Jurors heard about the witness given to one of Jabbateh’s fighters as a sex slave when she was 8 months pregnant: “She was with him for several days. And what happened to her? She miscarried and ended up in a tributary of the St. Paul River. That one crime, in and of itself, was enough [to deny asylum].
The prosecutor argued, “I suggest to you that there’s a pattern here. These women were from different tribes, from different parts of the country, and they all gave similar accounts of what happened. All during the time this man claimed he was in the SSS. But he wasn’t in the SSS because you see the photo of him during that time—he was in Tubmanburg, with a weapon.”
Wright next turned to the evidence of other crimes:
- Villagers were forced into the mines to work as slaves, he reminded jurors.
- He said to remember the man accused of reconnaissance: despite being a farmer and never mining a day in his life, he was forced to work in the mines for Jabbateh.
- He reminded jurors of the man who scratched his eye and was accused of hiding diamonds, given cassava to cause diarrhea, and then beaten when no diamonds were found.
- He recalled for them the women at the commercial farm who were stripped, led away topless, and raped at the soldier’s camp.
- He asked them to recall all the people who had been conscripted into Jabbateh’s army to carry heavy loads.
- Although Jabbateh’s soldiers cut one boy’s arm, what happened to the boy’s father and sister is the responsibility of Jabbateh, jurors were told. “His father [was] duck fa tabae tied and left naked in the street. But it doesn’t stop. [The] son goes home out in the bush, they get told your father is tied up naked in the street, dead. So [his older sister] goes—she gets raped in a half-finished house. Bitten. Look at the teeth marks,” the prosecutor urged as he showed the jurors more photographs.
- Remember the witness who came here with his hat on, he asked jurors. “But when he took it off, you saw what happened to his ear. [Jungle Jabbah] ordered that his ear be cut off, that it be removed. . . . He was complaining about being tied [in the duck fa tabae style], so Jungle Jabbah said to kill him. But he begged. People did a lot of begging with Jungle Jabbah.”
- Jurors were reminded of Zero Guard Post, and the people who were executed. The younger brother of Jungle Jabbah’s best friend testified that Jungle Jabbah ordered his soldiers in the Mandingo language to kill two former NPFL fighters, now POWs instead of combatants. “You saw pictures of the area where they lived, sitting there smoking opium, and then Jungle Jabbah gave the order in Mandingo to execute them. Bulletbounce, the child soldier, put them in tires. They were tied up in duck fa tabae. People jumping up and down, shooting into the air, while these people are burned to death. Because they were on the other side.”
- He told them again about the man who was shot in Dassalamu while sitting under the fruit tree, and how complaints to ECOMOG went unheeded.
- Jurors heard once more about the woman who was ordered to cook her husband’s heart moments after he was killed by Jungle Jabbah and his soldiers.
- They were reminded of the pregnant woman who had been shot in the vagina and her helper who was found shot and slumped on the house steps.
- The prosecutor recalled for jurors the 15 Krahn people, including women, who were begging for their lives before being turned over to be executed.
- Jurors were reminded of people killed because they were supposedly on reconnaissance, including the man tied to the Kola tree.
Any single one of these incidents was enough for the immigration officer to say “no” and deny Jabbateh his asylum, the prosecutor argued. But she didn’t know about those things because his representation was that he was in the SSS at the time.
“People came from half a world away and testified what had happened to them,” said Wright. “I suggest to you that you’ve received evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of these four things,” he concluded.
Next, the defense counsel, Gregory Pagano, had an opportunity to address the jury.
“There’s an elephant in this room, that Mr. Wright never spoke about or mentioned,” he began. “The government has called about 23 witnesses, and not a single one was from this organization that is the elephant in this room. . . . How does this case from thousands of miles away get here to this courtroom in Pennsylvania with you jurors? It’s not the Department of Justice; it’s Global Justice, a Liberian organization that acts as a gatekeeper. Global justice was not something mentioned by either prosecutor.” Global Justice, Pagano said, “is not bound by the oaths that the agents and officers take” and didn’t receive training like U.S. Special Agents and prosecutors. The U.S. government agents “are trained to follow the law of the United States of America, what to do and how to conduct fair investigations. This organization is not trained. We don’t know its political motives; we don’t know who’s paying for it. If there’s one common thread in these witnesses, it’s this Global Justice. Each and every witness is funneled to our government by them. These good men [the prosecutors and agents] have been hoodwinked. These good men have been emotionally invested in this case. They’ve been economically invested in this case. . . . They’ve been to Liberia five times, and were prepared to go a sixth.” The head of Global Justice could have been brought here and put under oath and been asked to explain how he identified these witnesses, he argued.
Defense counsel next suggested that Jabbateh could have been known in Liberia by other means. “There’s a bridge in Liberia [named after him]; there’s a book that’s been seen over and over again with pictures of this man; his name has appeared in print over and over in Africa. There’s not a single news report that mentions this man’s name in a derogatory or negative manner, or says a single thing or a single act that this man committed against anybody.”
Pagano pointed out other “common threads” between the witnesses. “There’s not a single report that any of them made to any journalists, or anyone for that matter, in 20-some years. Fifteen people who say they witnessed murders, who say they were raped, who say they were enslaved, who say they saw unspeakable things, never said one word of it in 25 years to anybody.” He suggested that the witnesses’ assertions that there was no one to report the crimes to were not credible. “Some of the witnesses have suggested that they had no one to report it to. That they are illiterate and uneducated, and did not know how to report things. [But] [s]ome of these witnesses own businesses. One is in nursing school. Several graduated high school,” he pointed out. He stressed that there is “a vibrant and free press in Liberia” and that the government called two journalists as witnesses in this case. They “took thousands and thousands of pictures [as they] traveled all throughout Liberia. But not one photograph showing this man commit any crime,” argued Pagano.
Jurors were urged to consider the lack of evidence beyond the witnesses’ oral testimony. It is “telling,” Pagano said, that “in a courtroom, where things are supposed to not be entertaining or theatrical, there’s nothing to support any one of these witnesses stories . . . Not a single piece of evidence or piece of proof. With respect to each and every witness, there’s not a single news story that these events even happened.” He acknowledged atrocities were committed during Liberia’s civil war, but argued that the evidence failed to show that Jabbateh committed any. Pagano argued there was a “sheer lack of forensic proof.” “This is a courtroom. This is about evidence. It’s about evidence that must be examined by you all without being emotionally influenced by the sheer grotesque and uncomfortable nature of the charges and allegations. In 2017, skeletons tell their own stories. Forensic evidence tells its own story. The good thing about forensic evidence is that it is not influenced by politics or tribal disputes. It tells its story without influences or biases or prejudices. Skeletons tell stories. Ancient skeletons can be exhumed to tell if there was some unnatural or violent death. They do it with mummies from ancient Egypt. To tell if a skull was fractured or if a chest was pierced by an ancient spear. Or if a pelvis was punctured by a gunshot wound.” He went on, “we saw her grave. It was never exhumed. War crimes are like other crimes—graves can be exhumed. But they did not dig up a single grave to tell that a single person was killed. [There was] no evidence that a single one of these people ever existed, if they did exist that they’re dead, or that they died in the manner that they say they did. This is a courtroom. It’s not about emotions or theatrics. It’s not about our tax dollars being used for some political war that’s still going on in Liberia.”
The defense suggested that the witnesses may have been motivated to implicate Jabbateh by wounds from the civil war that are “still open, still bleeding.” He went on: “We had a civil war here about 170 years ago. Although those wounds still exist, they’re scared over. People still imagine them. Imagine we were 20 years post-civil war, that those wounds are still open and bleeding. Imaging the motivations that people would have to implicate people from the other side. There’s no greater motive than revenge. There’s nothing sweeter or better, especially where people were mortal enemies and trying to kill each other. The ULIMO-K and NPFL are not friends; Christians and Muslims are not friends; some tribal groups are not friends.”
Pagano next pointed out flaws in specific witnesses’ testimony. He argued that many told “tall tales” on the witness stand. He faulted the woman who testified about her sister being shot in the vagina for not reporting the crime. “She testified that this happened in front of her, happened in her village, that she watched where [her sister] was buried. Does she seem like the type of person who would not go to the press, to ECOMOG, to the U.S. military, and tell them what happened?” he asked. Defense counsel also insinuated that the witness whose father was killed and sister raped when they confronted Jabbateh was not credible. “He went to the General, who no one else could get close to. But he was allowed to.” Pagano continued, “he testified that he had an open wound, untreated at this point. [His father] was taken and stripped and left to die in the street. Brave family, brave sister goes to Jungle Jabbah too. To complain about the death of her father, the cutting of her brother, and the taking of a bag of rice. You wouldn’t believe these claims in any other case and you shouldn’t believe them here. These are tall tales.” “Because he’s a former commander of ULIMO-K, that’s enough for them to come here to the witness stand and point a finger at him,” Pagano argued. He further suggested that it was not credible that the witness kept as a sex slave had managed to escape. “She escaped in the middle of the night, after she’d had a miscarriage, hid in a river, the St Paul River, in the middle of the night, under a tree that’s conveniently there, hiding from a search party of men out looking for her. The next morning she went into the bush—she’s like Hansel and Gretel—she finds not candy, but a hut with two old people who take her in and hide her from the enemy. These are tall tales of the highest order. By people who have not told them for 25 years.”
Pagano also took issue with the identification procedures used in this case, arguing the government had used “unduly suggestive photos.” He complained that a suggestive picture of Jabbateh “was used in every photo identification by every single witness. . . . We know that photo was taken from a book. That book is available to anybody in this courtroom, to anybody in the world who wants to buy it.”
Defense counsel asserted that the immigration officers who testified are “the front line for determining that the right people come into this country.” He went on, “not only was [Jabbateh] admitted, but this man [was found to be] credible.” Quoting from the asylum officer’s handwritten notes, Pagano read, “he was sufficiently detailed, therefore testimony is deemed credible.” He pointed out that Jabbateh had voluntarily provided his ULIMO identification cards to immigration authorities—something the immigration officers acknowledged was unusual. “As you’re deliberating, ask yourself: Is the man who provided this hiding from his past? Hiding from his service in the military? Was this man hiding from who he was? Hiding from who he was in the Liberian civil war?”
Pagano concluded by urging the jury to remember the photographs they saw in this case, including those of the ear and bite marks, and suggested the government had done nothing to corroborate that evidence. “If it is a bite mark, we all know there are doctors out there who could confirm or corroborate that. If ear was taken off, we all know there is a difference if the ear was bitten off or sliced off. [Doctors] could say if the injury is consistent with what is visible on the person’s body. The person with the burden of proof did not even attempt to prove that. They believed these people and they expect you to also.” He further argued that the “tall tale tellers from Liberia” should not be believed. “They don’t have to worry about the consequences of perjury because they’re already back in Liberia. If that doesn’t give you pause and hesitation, maybe I haven’t done my job. I ask you follow your oaths. Uphold the oaths you took and not allow cases to be imported or exported to this criminal justice system for some other purpose.”
The Court’s Admonition
After defense counsel finished his summation, the judge excused the jury and addressed counsel. He expressed concern that defense counsel “talked about a lot of stuff for which there was no evidence in this case” and accused defense counsel of improperly speculating about why the government did something without sufficient support. He was particularly concerned that defense counsel had suggested that the government acted improperly by failing to bring the head of Global Justice to the U.S. to testify. Neither the government nor defense counsel had power to compel the individual to testify, the judge explained. When a witness is equally available or equally unavailable to both sides, neither can be blamed for declining to call them to testify.
The government launched its rebuttal by challenging defense counsel’s assertion that there had been no corroborating evidence. “You don’t need to be a doctor to see he doesn’t have his ear anymore. You don’t need to be a doctor to see teeth marks,” argued the prosecutor.
The prosecutor rebutted the defense’s attacks on Global Justice by asking jurors to focus on the evidence they heard and not on defense counsel’s assertions. The prosecutor pointed out, for example, that although Pagano faulted Global Justice agents for not taking an “oath,” there had been no evidence at all about what oath they operate under or not. Similarly, there had been no evidence suggesting faulty identification procedures, the prosecutor said. Witnesses testified that people from Global Justice had simply asked them what happened during the war, and offered no suggestion that they had been shown suggestive photos by anyone to encourage a particular identification.
The prosecutor also dismissed defense counsel’s allegations that witnesses were motivated to attack Jabbateh because they belonged to warring ethnic groups. He pointed out that one witness had specifically testified, “I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it’s for.” He further reminded the jury that witnesses had testified that the head of Global Justice was himself Mandingo, same as Jabbateh. He also pointed out that individuals from nine different ethnic groups (tribal groups) testified, including Mandingos. Not one of them said they have something against Mandingos, he argued. “Revenge is sweet, but maybe justice is sweeter,” he urged.
Next, the prosecutor addressed defense counsel’s claims about the lack of forensic evidence. You don’t need bones to say that the person is dead, he argued. “When a witness testified that they heard shots and then their cousin was dead, what do you need bones for? As a result of that conflict, you can probably find bones all over Liberia. That’s a tragedy. There were dogs eating people in the street. We need to recover bones for DNA for who? For what? It came from the mouths of witnesses.”
The government also pointed out that the identification procedures were not faulty because this case didn’t involve identification; rather it was one of recognition. The witnesses were familiar with Jungle Jabbah, had spent time in close proximity to him, and knew who he was. It wasn’t a case of an unknown assailant committing a crime and running away. One witness had non-consensual sex with Jungle Jabbah for weeks, another had often served Jungle Jabbah in her restaurant before he killed her sister, one lived in the same house as him, and one picked lice out of his dreadlocks. This isn’t a case of “who did it,” the government argued. The only question at issue is whether the individual the government believed was Jungle Jabbah was in fact the same person the witnesses were talking about. He submitted that the evidence confirms it was.
Prosecutors also addressed newspaper articles that Jabbateh offered as evidence that he worked as a peacemaker. But those articles were from 1996 -1997, the prosecutor pointed out, not from 1992-1995 when Jabbateh allegedly served as the battalion commander. Wright argued: “I suggest to you that there was a reason that there was nothing there for 1992 - 1995. I suggest he had to come up with something for that timeframe. So he said SSS. He wasn’t in the SSS—the evidence was clear. But he had to hide his activities by saying he was in the SSS. Because what he was really doing was leading the Zebra Battalion in Bomi, in Lofa, in Cape Mount County. That’s why. Because during that time frame, he was doing exactly what these witnesses said he was doing in that timeframe.” He pointed out that the photograph of Jabbateh with an automatic weapon hanging off his side was from 1993, when he claimed he was in the SSS, further refuting Jabbateh’s claims of belonging to SSS in that period.
In closing, the prosecutor told the jury: “You had the opportunity to look through the eyes of each one of these witnesses. Take the cloak off the evidence. I suggest to you that based on the evidence in this case, he’s not entitled to wear the cloak of innocence any more. I urge you to find him guilty of all four counts in this case.”
Following summations, the judge charged the jury. In doing so, the judge instructed the jury on the law of the case, what they may consider as evidence, and how to carry out their role as jurors.
At its conclusion, the jury retired to the jury room to begin deliberations. They did not reach a verdict by the end of the day and will resume deliberations tomorrow morning.