'Evidence ignored' in trial of footballers

Police fail to present what they say was one of the murder weapons in the trial of nine Emirati footballers accused of killing a man in 2008.

Abu Dhabi // Police showed a "blatant disregard" of evidence by failing to present what they say was one of the murder weapons in the trial of nine Emirati footballers accused of killing a man in 2008, the Federal Supreme Court has ruled. The case of the man accused of wielding the weapon in the killing, FJ, a former UAE international, has been sent back to the lower court and the verdict overturned.

FJ and eight other defendants appeared before the Sharjah Criminal Court of First Instance in early 2009, charged with killing, or witnessing the killing, of JYJ during a fight in Al Rifaa, Sharjah. FJ and two others were sentenced to death, but FJ was later acquitted by the Sharjah Court of Appeals on grounds of lack of evidence. Lawyers for the victim's family rejected the verdict and appealed to the Federal Supreme Court.

They claimed to the court that Sharjah police officers suppressed evidence during their investigation. According to court records, Al Heera police in Sharjah examined the crime scene on May 18, 2008. The fight took place in a sandy area, and police gathered a number of shoes from the scene, as well as a piece of metal and fingerprints retrieved from it. A lieutenant, identified as AA, did not retain the piece of metal and did not send it to the forensics laboratory, according to documents.

"The forensic report does not mention any metal piece nor the fingerprints collected from it," the court document said in citing the reasons for accepting the appeal. "This has led to the blatant disregard of significant evidence." The court said the evidence was significant because prosecutors had alleged that the instrument was used by FJ, and that the victim was struck by the instrument on the left side of his face.

The court described the loss of that specific piece of evidence by police as "grave indifference". "The metal piece was hidden despite the fact it carried fingerprints. This misguided measure during the hearings had an impact [on the outcome] and hid the truth from the court, which makes the previous verdict invalid," the court ruled. The death sentences against the two other men were upheld by the Federal Supreme Court. They require the signature of Sheikh Khalifa, President of the UAE, to be carried out.