Court: Judgment Day for Charles Taylor in April

AP News
Posted: Mar 01, 2012 7:00 AM
Court: Judgment Day for Charles Taylor in April

A U.N-backed war crimes court said Thursday it will issues the decision in the trial of the former Liberian President Charles Taylor next month.

Taylor is the first former African head of state to be prosecuted at an international tribunal and faces a maximum life sentence if convicted.

Prosecutors allege that the flamboyant warlord-turned-elected president, from the confines of his official mansion in the Liberian capital, armed and supported rebels notorious for hacking off the limbs of their enemies in Sierra Leone's brutal 1991-2002 civil war.

Taylor denies 11 charges, which include murder, torture and using child soldiers, and has called his prosecution politically motivated "neocolonialism" aimed at removing him from power in Liberia.

His three-year trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone ended a year ago and verdicts will be delivered April 26.

Prosecutors called 94 witnesses, and defense lawyers called 21 witnesses, including Taylor himself. He took the stand for 13 weeks to reject the allegations against him.

The most sensational witness was supermodel Naomi Campbell, who was called by prosecutors to testify about diamonds allegedly given to her by Taylor at a celebrity studded 1997 dinner at Nelson Mandela's presidential mansion in South Africa.

However, Campbell's testimony did not provide the smoking gun prosecutors had sought to show Taylor traded in so-called "blood diamonds" to arm rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone.

The court said Thursday that if he is acquitted appeal proceedings will start immediately and if he is convicted the court will schedule hearings to determine his sentence. Defense lawyers also can appeal any convictions and sentence.

The court's registrar Binta Mansaray this week called verdicts in Taylor's trial a "critical milestone" for the court as it will mean the end of its final trial. The court was established in 2000 and has convicted several key rebel leaders from Sierra Leone, handing them sentences of between 15 and 52 years imprisonment.

The announcement of the date for Taylor's verdicts came a day after the International Criminal Court said it would deliver judgment later this month in its first trial, against Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga, who is accused of using child soldiers in his country's brutal civil war.