PHILADELPHIA – It was a sunny day in Philadelphia, but a cloud of uncertainty consumed the courtroom as the defense began their case. The question lingering in the court observers’ minds was finally answered: The defendant, Thomas Woewiyu would not testify in his own defense. But who would?
Report by Tecee Boley and Adrienne Tingba
The defense answered those questions with the calling of its key witnesses for the day: Woewiyu’s children. The testimonies began with his youngest son, Lieutenant Monkonjay Thomas Woewiyu, 33. Monkonjay, who had served in the United States Navy for 8 years, was called by the defense, as were his siblings, to testify as a character witness. With great certainty in his voice, he attested to the honest nature of his father.
“My opinion of my dad’s honesty is one that I hold in high regard,” Monkonjay said. “I think he is very honest man. I have never in all my years had a reason to not believe him. I believe I have taken those same values and applied it to my own life in everything I do. Not only for our country, but for everything I do,” Monkonjay continued.
Monkonjay, who appeared by video link from his base in Connecticut , had appeared earlier in the week in the courtroom – a striking presence in his navy uniform. His service to the US may soften the hard image the prosecution has painted of their father over the last two weeks according to court observers. It may also underscore for the jury, Woewiyu’s commitment to America.
On cross-examination prosecutor Linwood C. Wright pointed out that Monkonjay had joined the navy at age 24 – Wright’s unspoken point was the contrast between Monkonjay’s age when he began his service and that of the child soldiers who served in the NPFL.
Three more children appeared to underscore the case that Woewiyu has lived a different life in the US, far removed from his war activities in Liberia. All of them had postgraduate degrees.
Two children – Jucontee Thomas Woewiyu the second, 36, and Hawa Dahnsaw, 46 – work with children in the education system. Jucontee Jr. is a mental health therapist in the Philadelphia schools system. Dahnshaw has been a principal at a New Jersey high school for 13 years.
A fourth child, Naanco Woewiyu, 29 is a social worker.
All of them were asked their opinion on the law-abiding nature of their father. Monkonjay said, “He has always advised me and my siblings to be law-abiding citizens, and he has been an example of that, which is why I have never been involved in anything with the law, and neither have my siblings.”
“I do believe my father to be an honest person. He taught us everything we know. He is a good father and grandfather,” said Naanco.
“My father has been the driving force in our family,” echoed Dahnshaw. “The founder of who we are. He is an honest person. He developed that type of value within us and the people within his community.”
Jucontee Jr. talked of having seen his father in Liberia serving as Minister of Labor in the Taylor government. “I spent a lot of time in Africa. I watched him in the Senate, make laws and lead hundreds of thousands of people.”
Prosecutor Wright took advantage of this testimony to underscore the connection between Woewiyu and Taylor. “That was Charles Taylor’s government?” “Yes,” answered Jucontee Jr. hesitantly.
Earlier in the day, the defense presented its first witness, Woewiyu’s immigration attorney, Raymond Basso, who was with him during his 2009 citizenship application interview. Basso’s testimony outlined the perspective of he and Woewiyu on the day of his citizenship interview with the prosecution’s witness, Marsilina Eikerekoetter, of the US immigration office.
As his testimony showed for the jury, there is a key dispute between the immigration officer and the attorney and his client in their accounts of the 2009 interview.
“She asked for explanation on the question when Tom (Woewiyu) tried to reach in his briefcase, she said – ‘I don’t have time for this right now, I will send you something in the
mail’-” Basso recalled. He claimed Eikerekoetter only gave them 15 minutes and didn’t give him time to list all the organizations he’d been a member of including, crucially for the case, the NPFL.
In her testimony, Eikerekoetter had told the jury she had spent a long time painstakingly going over each question in the N400 form with Woewiyu and had imposed no time limit.
Basso’s testimony was designed to establish in the minds of the jury doubt concerning the testimony of immigration officer Eikerenkoetter.
Court observers watched with concentrated eyes as the cross-examination of the witness intensified. Wright, sharing occasional smiles with the jury and the witness, walked confidently across the courtroom as he continued to probe. Back and forth they went until he felt that he had established enough doubt in the minds of the jury in regard to Basso’s testimony.
There was also a long discussion about whether the defense could submit the entire TRC report. The defense argued the jury needed to see the whole 495+ page report because the immigration lawyer who rejected Woewiyu’s case had said she relied on the report in order to come to her decision. The prosecution rejected this saying the entire report was not relevant to this case. The judge allowed the report into evidence but restricted the defense’s ability to reference it to only the relevant sections.
The defense rested its case at the close of today. Both sides will present their closing arguments on Monday when they will take an hour or more each to paint for the jury their theory of the case using the evidence that has been presented over the last three weeks. The judge will then go through each count for the jury and give them clear instructions on what they are to weigh during their deliberations.
Court observers think it likely the jury will come back with a verdict quickly, particularly with the July 4th holiday in the US on Wednesday.
If convicted Woewiyu may face up to 110 years in jail and a US $4m fine.
This story was produced in collaboration with New Narratives. Funding was provided by Civitas Maxima. The funder had no say in the story’s content.