Top: (L-R) Godpower Sayon, Austin Paye and Enoch King escaped while they were being held in a withholding cell to be taken to court when they escaped. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue
By Gabriel M. Dixon
BARCONNIE – Three men accused of killing a sea turtle in Grand Bassa County have broken jail, days after they were arrested, the office of the County Attorney said.
Godpower Sayon, 26, Austin Paye, 22, and Enoch King age 23 had been turned over to the Office of the County Attorney on Monday evening for trial the next morning but escaped. The court had closed when the three suspects were brought in late evening hours, according to Grand Bassa County Attorney Randolph Johnson.
“Unfortunately, the withholding cell was broken into,” Attorney Johnson told The DayLight in a mobile phone interview. “We learned that they are in the same neighborhood [where they were arrested].”
The FDA and other agencies have expressed concern over how the accused escaped the custody of the police and have called for an investigation into the matter.
“The depot commander where the jailbreak occurred was immediately released from his post, and ordered to write a situation report giving a clear understanding of how the inmate escaped from jail,” James Flomo, FDA’s regional forester told The DayLight. The Grand Bassa police headquarters did not grant our request for an interview on the matter.
How they were arrested
The suspects had been detained by community volunteers monitoring the beaches of Bleewin Harmonsville for killing the turtle in the early morning hours of last Saturday.
“They were held by my frontline conservationists and turned over to me with a dead sea turtle. It was how I turned them over to the police,” said Alphonso Dennis, Town Chief of Bleewin.
Bleewin is one of the towns that make up the Barconnie-Harmonville Authorized Community Forest, which was established in 2017. The community decided to conserve its 123-hectare seafront woodland due to the importance of the coastal forest to endangered marine species like sea turtles, sharks and rays. Since then, the people of Barconnie have benefitted from training conducted by different conversation groups to help them properly manage and sustain their conversation efforts.
“Strong awareness has been ongoing in our community from day to day. The sea turtle, we all are aware. So, everybody in the community is aware of the restriction on the killing of endangered species,” Dennis told The DayLight.
The Three suspects do not deny their crimes. Paye, the main suspect, said he saw the turtle while doing his “normal hustle” along the beach that morning. “I killed the turtle,” he said.
The other two suspects, Sayon and King, admitted to assisting him in allegedly committing the crime. All three men pleaded for mercy while being taken back to jail after our interview.
Liberia’s wildlife and environmental laws prohibit the killing of endangered species. The three suspects allegedly committed multiple offenses under both laws.
They risk paying a fine of US$250 to US$5,000 or four to six-month imprisonment in line with the National Wildlife Conservation and Protected Areas Management Law of Liberia. They may also perform community service in addition to a fine imposed by a court for violating the Environmental Protection and Management Law of Liberia.
The incident comes at a time when the Government of Liberia desperately strives to fight wildlife crimes and improve the country’s conversation image globally. But, according to a report by the West Africa Biodiversity and Climate Change (WABiCC), a USAID-sponsored program, the lack of a strong legal framework and weak enforcement are the challenges the government should address to save the country’s biodiversity.
Daniel Lawubah of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Grand Bassa County had hoped that the suspects were convicted.
“There should be an example set,” said Lawubah, “so people will be deterred from doing evil.”