In 2003, MK* (name protected for her privacy) was arrested and detained in Sierra Leone, for the murder of her stepdaughter. Between 2003 and the beginning of her trial in March 2005, MK received no legal advice or assistance. MK was illiterate, terrified and all on her own. She suffered a miscarriage whilst in prison, and had no hope left in life, all for something she had not done.
MK’s husband had accidentally sat on the six-month-old baby, suffocating it. Together, they tried to revive the baby, but to no avail. They were both arrested, and he told the police that she had poisoned the baby with battery fluid. They believed him. MK’s husband told her to confess and that the matter would be resolved in a traditional family way. MK thumb printed a confession (which she was not able to read) that was later used against her in trial. “I said that I was guilty because my husband told me to.”
In 2005 MKs trial went before a judge – unable to understand English, she had no idea what was happening throughout the proceedings. The defence failed and MK was found guilty by a jury of murder. She was sentenced to death and transferred to a maximum-security prison in the capital, Freetown where she spent six years in a correctional centre.
Shortly after MK’s sentencing, AdvocAid met MK in one of our literacy classes. We took on her case. In November 2010, we succeeded in ensuring MK’s matter was put back on the court listings and the Court of Appeal agreed to hear the case. Numerous holes were found in the case and were cited as grounds for the case to be reconsidered; these included MK’s husband, the primary witness, having never been cross-examined.
In March 2011, MK’s case was heard by the Court of Appeal. The judge overturned the earlier ruling, and the prosecution dropped its case against her. On that day, MK was released from death row, six years after her sentencing and eight years after her imprisonment. She was the longest serving woman on death row in Sierra Leone.
MK was afraid of returning home to her husband and was tragically estranged from her son who had been just eighteen months old when MK was imprisoned. MK had been a student in AdvocAid’s classes whilst on death row and achieved basic literacy and numeracy skills. Upon release, she aspired to start a small business to provide herself and her family with an income and wanted to take tailoring and catering courses.
We continued to work closely with MK, providing her with vital post-prison support and supported her through vocational training school. Today, in 2021, she has moved on with her life and, while we continue to keep in touch, she no longer needs AdvocAid's support. With your support, we will continue to provide post-prison support to women like MK for as long as they need it.