(CN) - A Nigerian woman who extorted $185,000 from the husband of a government official was properly barred from using battered woman's syndrome as a defense, a federal judge ruled.
Queen Nwoye, a Nigerian living in the United States, was working as a pharmacy tech in 2002, when she started dating a compatriot, Dr. Ikembe Iweala, though both were married.
When the affair ended in 2005, Nwoye separated from but continued to live with her husband. She soon began a romantic relationship with another Nigerian, Adrienne Osuagwu.
The couple were charged in late 2006 with extorting $185,000 from Iweala, whose wife was a high-ranking Nigerian government official.
Earlier that year, Osuagwu had secretly taken photos as Nwoye had Iweala unzip his pants in a hospital parking lot.
Iweala had come clean to his wife about the affair and went to the FBI after telling Nwoye and Osuagwu that he would not pay them more.
Nwoye meanwhile broke off the affair with Osuagwu because she learned he was married. She then contacted the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) by phone and email to inform it of his criminal activities.
While Osuagwu pleaded guilty, Nwoye went to trial before U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle in Washington, D.C.
She testified that Osuagwu first physically abused her in December 2005 when they travelled to Nigeria for her father's funeral, and continued to abuse her for several months.
Osuagwu slapped Nwoye with an open hand, hit her with his shoes, and "would end up beating me up like a drum and I was just helpless," she testified.
Plus, Osuagwu allegedly forced Nwoye to move to Maryland in January 2006, and to give him her ATM cards and PINs, which he used to buy a California home without her consent.
Nwoye said Osuagwu told her he was a retired FBI agent, and made her wear a wireless earpiece to answer his calls - even during nursing school - while he spent days in California.
John Iweanoge represented Nwoye at trial, but the judge denied his request to instruct the jury about the affirmative defense of duress. Iweanoge instead argued that Nwoye "was being used by the devil himself," and the jury returned a unanimous guilty verdict.
Nwoye appealed with help from a public defender, but the D.C. Circuit affirmed, 2-1, on the basis that Nwoye could have called the police in Osuagwu's absence.
Judge David Tatel wrote in dissent that Nwoye deserved a duress instruction as she thought "police would neither protect her nor investigate" her abuser, a so-called "FBI guy."
Nwoye moved for a new trial, arguing that Iweanoge failed to call an expert witness on battered woman's syndrome (BWS), so that Nwoye was the sole defense witness at trial.
U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman denied the motion Monday.
Though "it was Mr. Iweanoge's duty to discuss the possible availability of [Criminal Justice Act] funds with his client" to obtain an expert witness, he did not prejudice her defense, according to the ruling.
"Contrary to defendant's position, it simply is not a sufficient predicate for a duress instruction in this circuit to show that, as a result of BWS or otherwise, the particular defendant believed that she had no reasonable legal alternative to committing the crime," Friedman wrote. "Rather, in order for the defendant to be entitled to a duress instruction, she must adduce evidence at trial showing that she herself in fact had no reasonable legal alternative. Because no amount of expert testimony could rectify this evidentiary deficiency, the court concludes that there was no prejudice to the defendant by virtue of her lawyer's failure to offer expert testimony on BWS for presentation to Judge Huvelle at trial."