A drug-dealing “assassin” was reportedly awarded £600,000 in legal aid after an unprecedented five trials.
Obina Ezeoke, 28, was sentenced to life in prison at the Old Bailey in October for murdering mother-of-nine, Annie Ekofo, 53, and her nephew Bervil Ekofo, 21.
Ezeoke, of Cambridge Heath, east London, killed the pair in their family home amid a “vendetta of violence” in September 2016.
Sally-Anne Russell, from the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “This was an execution of two family members within the space of about a minute. Obina Ezeoke’s actions have devastated a family.
“He went to the flat to carry out a revenge attack because of an ongoing feud between himself and another in the household. When he couldn’t find the person he was looking for, he murdered a young man and a mother-of-nine instead. Both victims were entirely innocent.”
He was sentenced to life with a minimum term of 40 years after an Old Bailey jury convicted him in September.
But it took five trials for the prosecution to get a guilty verdict, and ran up a £603,587 legal aid bill, the Daily Mail reported.
The first trial in 2017 collapsed because the judge had a bad back.
Jurors were unable to reach verdicts following a trial in 2018 and another in 2019, and a fourth attempt was abandoned when the coronavirus lockdown came in as a jury deliberated in March.
According to the Mail, a Freedom of Information request revealed that the two trials where juries failed to reach a verdict cost taxpayers £323,626.41 in legal aid for Ezeoke.
The two halted trials cost £187,599.98 in legal aid and Ezeoke also received £92,362.64 in support for the latest case where he was found guilty.
But the Ministry of Defence's Legal Aid Agency told the newspaper the cost of the most recent trial may not yet have been fully counted.
A Legal Aid Agency spokesman said: “Anyone facing a Crown Court trial is eligible for legal aid, subject to a strict means test.
“Depending on their means, applicants for criminal legal aid can be required to pay contributions up to the entire cost of the defence.
“Defendants do not receive a penny of legal aid payments are means-tested and sent directly to solicitors and barristers who represent them to ensure a fair trial.
“Without legal representation criminals could argue their trial was unfair and convictions could be quashed.”
Yahoo News has contacted the Legal Aid Agency for comment.
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After the first four trials collapsed, Ezeoke’s lawyer had argued that to continue the case for the fifth time would be “oppressive”.
“Is it really right and proper for this defendant to actually have the appalling prospect of a fifth attempt trying to get a conviction over the line? We submit, enough is enough,” James Scobie QC said.
However, prosecutor Mark Heywood argued the case was “exceptional” and had “such gravity”.
During the trial, Heywood described Ezeoke as an “assassin” who “crept noiselessly” into the home as six people inside slept.
He said Ezeoke had gone to the flat in East Finchley, north London, in his “vendetta of violence” and wanted to kill one of the teenage boys in the family.
The court heard Ezeoke, who has admitted dealing drugs, found Bervil Ekofo sleeping.
Heywood said: “For the killer this was as good a target as he could expect – a young man of the house of just the right age.
“He crept forward, gun in hand. He raised the muzzle and placed it almost against the back of the sleeping, dreadlocked head.
“And then, with a deliberation and purpose that was as much cowardly as it was murderous, he pulled the trigger.”
Annie Ekofo then went into the hall to investigate what happened, but instead of trying to scare her off with his revolver, Ezeoke shot her, the court heard.
“His hate was such that he did not falter when confronted by a second person – he simply took her life as well,” Heywood said, stressing that both victims were innocent and Bervil was visiting only for one night.
Justice Johannah Cutts said: “He was not your intended target, but was in the wrong place in the wrong time.
“You have an entrenched criminal lifestyle. Although not unintelligent, you have shunned a law-abiding life.
“Your precise motive for doing so is unclear although I have no doubt that its roots lay in your previous criminal behaviour and desire for revenge.”
Firearm residue was found in Ezeoke’s Vauxhall Meriva, which was used in the getaway, and on his top recovered from a friend’s home.
He claimed he leased the car from a man who took it back the day before the murders and said the residue must have been found because of a previous shooting.
Defending, Scobie said the first murder was planned but the second was not.
Ekeoze has already served four years and 11 days in prison, which will be taken into account.
Chantelle Mamie, Bervil Ekofo’s mother, said in a statement at the sentencing: “I don’t think any words can describe how traumatic it is for a mother to have their child killed.
“We grow to accept that death is a part of life and we should embrace it.
“However, no-one really prepares you for burying your child whose life was taken from them by another.”
Osman Jeanefey, the husband of Annie Ekofo, said in another statement: “I think about Annie every day, I can’t believe she is gone. Sometimes I feel I will go mad and the image of her dying on the floor is always in my head.
Detective Chief Inspector Garry Moncrieff, who led the investigation, said: “It appears that they were totally innocent victims, killed as a result of escalating violence between rival groups, and the latest in a series of violent clashes dating back several years.
“This double murder has devastated Bervil and Annie’s families, and I hope that they find some comfort in knowing that the man who killed them has been brought to justice and now faces life imprisonment.”
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