Eric Asante has been acquitted by the Supreme Court of Ghana of defiling a 14-year-old girl in 2005. Asante’s acquittal was based on a DNA paternity test that excluded him as the father of the son born to the now 26-year-old woman.
In 2005 Eric Asante was 28 and a teacher at the Nyorhini Presby Junior High School in Tamale, Ghana. Tamale is a city of 360,000 people about 269 miles north of Ghana’s capital of Accra that is on Africa’s Western coast.
One of Asante’s female students was 14-year-old Rubamatu Mohammed.
In January 2005 Rubamatu and several relatives informed the police that Asante forcibly had sex with her one time, and she became pregnant.
A medical examination showed Rubamatu was pregnant.
Asante was charged with defiling Rubamatu, and on February 1, 2005 he was relieved of his teaching position.
During his trial in the Tamale High Court the prosecution’s case was based on the testimony of Rubamatu and the hearsay testimony of her relatives, that he had sex with her and got her pregnant.
Asante’s defense was he only had a professional teacher-student relationship with Rubamatu, and he never had any sexual contact with her. Although Rubamatu had given birth to her baby boy, Rubamatu’s lawyer did not request a paternity test.
Faced with a “He said, She said” case, the judge chose to believe Rubamatu and her relatives. Asante was found guilty on September 5, 2005, and he was sentenced to 15 years in prison at hard labor.
Asante’s appeal to Ghana’s Court of Appeal was denied on October 6, 2006.
The Mirror, a weekly newspaper in Accra took an interest in Asante’s case. The Mirror’s parent company, the Graphic Communications Group Limited (GCGL), approached prominent human rights lawyer Francis Xavier Sosu about representing Asante. He agreed, with the GCGL paying all legal and filing fees.
In 2012 Ghana’s Supreme Court granted Asante leave to appeal his conviction. His appeal claimed there were inconsistencies in the prosecution’s evidence presented at trial that failed to prove his guilt.
In addition, he requested an order for a paternity test to determine if he was the biological father of Rubamatu’s child. The Supreme Court promptly granted Asante’s request and ordered a paternity test. The order was served on Rubamatu’s aunts Juliet Tinjina and Gladys Abokokpa in Tamale, who were taking care of Rubamatu’s child. They were commanded to bring the child to the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra within eight weeks of being served with the court order. The women refused to bring the child to Accra, even after the Northern Regional Police Commander intervened in an effort to force their compliance with the court order.
After almost three years of non-compliance with its 2012 order, the Supreme Court issued an order on February 11, 2015 that Tinjina and Abokokpa make Rubamatu’s son available to Ghana’s Police Forensic Unit, so a sample of his DNA could be obtained for a paternity test. Tinjina and Abokokpa complied with the second court order.
In July 2015 the Police Forensic Unit notified the Supreme Court that Asante’s DNA excluded him as the boy’s biological father.
Asante was released in September 2015 after ten years of imprisonment. The Supreme Court granted his release on bail for his good behavior in completing two-thirds of his sentence at the Nsawam Maximum Security Prison.
On November 10, 2015 the Supreme Court publicly released the DNA test result that Asante was not the biological father of Rubamatu’s son.
Asante told The Mirror in response to the DNA test result: “Right from the beginning of this case, there was no evidence to show I had defiled the girl, except for the pregnancy. It has been over 10 years of pain and suffering for a crime I did not commit. It saddens my heart that all these years have been wasted. I have suffered for nothing and it has cost me so much.”
Nineteen months after receiving the exclusionary paternity test, Ghana’s Supreme Court unanimously granted Asante’s appeal on January 26, 2017, and ordered his acquittal and discharge from custody. The Court ruled there was no substantial evidence supporting Asante’s guilt, and the trial judge would have found Asante not guilty if he had known the exculpatory DNA evidence that was discovered after his conviction.
The Supreme Court directed that Asante could file a claim for compensation. Asante’s lawyer Sosu told reporters Asante would apply for 10 million Ghana Cedi (About US$2.1 million) in compensation.
Asante called for Ghana’s Attorney General to open an investigation of the case, because “there is a true culprit out there who committed the crime and connived with the lady to implicate me.” The lady he referred to is Rubamatu Mohammed. The sixty-four dollar questions are why she falsely accused him of having sex with her and being the father of her child, why she actively participated to ensure he was falsely convicted, and why she did nothing while he languished in a maximum security prison for ten years before his release.
Ghana is a former British colony whose official language is English, and its legal system is rooted in the English Common Law, the same as the United States. Asante told The Mirror in an interview that his case of being convicted and imprisoned though innocent wasn’t unique: “there were countless other people in jail who did not deserve to be there but the system had made them convicts.”
On February 17, 2017 Asante filed a petition with the Ghana Education Service to reinstate him as a teacher, and for the payment of salary arrears and other allowances due him from February 1, 2005 to the date of his reinstatement. The petition also requested that the GES consider promoting him to an appropriate teaching rank that he would have achieved if he had not been wrongly convicted and incarcerated.
Asante’s exoneration was the first in Ghana attributable to post-conviction DNA testing. Historically there are few DNA exonerations outside the U.S. The Innocents Database documents there were only seven known DNA exonerations outside the United States during the five years from 2012 to 2016, and only 39 since 1989.
Note 1: The exchange rate was .217 Ghana Cedi to 1 US dollar on February 26, 2017.