RESIDENT Magistrate, Polo Banyane, yesterday ordered the prosecution to prepare its argument on whether or not the army officers facing three counts of murder as well as the attempted murder charge arising from the shooting of Lesotho Times Editor, Lloyd Mutungamiri, should be released from detention.
Ms Banyane made a ruling after one of the lawyers representing the army officers, Advocate Letuka Molati, urged the court to release them from detention on the grounds that the trial date against such officers has not yet been set.
Advocate Molati was pressing for the release of the army officers on the basis of the Speedy Trial Act, which stipulates that an accused person should not be detained for more than 60 days without a trial date being set.
The murder-accused army officers are Sergeant Lekhooa Moepi (43); Captain Mahlehle Moeletsi (50); Lance Corporal Mahlomola Makhoali (32); Private Nthatakane Motanyane (24); Brigadier Rapele Mphaki (47); Motšoane Machai (39); Liphapang Sefako (48); and Nemase Faso (28).
The eight members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) allegedly strangled Lekhoele Noko, Molise Pakela and Khothatso Makibinyane at Setibing in the rural Maseru on 16 May 2017, and dumped their bodies in the Mohale Dam.
In a separate charge, four army officers are facing an attempted murder charge for shooting Mr Mutungamiri in July 2016.
They are Brigadier Rapele Mphaki; Khutlang Mochesane (57) from Ha-Makhoathi; Mahanyane Phasumane (37) from Masowe; Nyatso Tšoeunyane (41) from Lesobeng, Ha-Khupiso in Thaba-Tseka; and Maribe Nathane from Leribe. They first appeared before the Magistrates’ Court early last month.
According to the charge sheet, the said army officers shot Mr Mutungamiri at his home in Upper Thamae in the late hours of the 9 July 2016 after knocking off from work.
The army officers facing murder charges and the ones facing an attempted murder charge were all remanded in custody after being told to apply for bail before the High Court because the Magistrate’s Court did not have powers to hear bail application on the attempted murder charge.
They have since been attending regular remand proceedings at the Magistrates’ Court from Maseru Maximum Security Prison.
But, in a new turn of events, the accused want to be released from detention as they argue the prosecution seems not ready to proceed with the trial of the cases against them.
Advocate Molati argued there was no valid reason why the said army officers were still being detained because there had not been any suggestion that they could pose any security threat if released from prison.
“Only the commander of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF), Commissioner of Police or the Director General of the National Security Services (NSS) could give evidence that a person is a security threat.
“But none of them has adduced such evidence, so far,” Advocate Molati argued.
But the District Public Prosecutor, Qcinumuzi Tshabalala, told the court that he was unable to brief the court on the progress the investigations of the two cases because he was on leave for the past few weeks.
Therefore, he pleaded with the court to grant him some time to prepare his argument to oppose the release of the said soldiers under the said law.
Ms Banyane remanded the said army officers in custody and told them to appear again on 7 February on remand.
She ordered the prosecution to be ready by then to address the court on whether the said soldiers should be released from detention or not.