Five army officers who shot and nearly killed Lesotho Times Editor, Lloyd Mutungamiri, in a volley of bullets in July 2016 have failed in their bid for freedom after Maseru Resident Magistrate, Polo Banyane, ruled that they must now stand trial before a senior resident magistrate.
The five are charged with attempted murder.
Brigadier Rapele Mphaki (47), Khutlang Mochesane (57), Mahanyane Phusumane (37), Nyatso Tšoeunyane (41) and Maribe Nathane (35) conspired to shot Mr Mutungamiri at his Upper Thamae home in the late hours of 9 July 2016. It is understood that they confessed to committing the dastardly act during their interrogations by the police but argued that as soldiers – they were merely carrying orders from their superiors.
The burly and athletic suspects were back in a packed courtroom yesterday. All the five sat largely expressionless as their lawyer tried to bid for their freedom with only one managing a wry smile at the end of proceedings.
The suspects first appeared before the Magistrate’s Court in December 2017 and yesterday their lawyer, Advocate Letuka Molati, attempted to argue for their release from detention in terms of the Speedy Trial Act which provides that an accused person should not be kept in detention for more than 60 days before their trial date is set.
However, his efforts came to naught after Senior Crown Counsel, Lehlohonolo Phooko, told the court that police investigations into the matter were now complete and the case was ready to be set for hearing.
He added that “the directive from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) stipulates that the trial should be presided over by a senior resident magistrate”.
Ms Banyane then postponed the case to next Wednesday for trial by a yet to be appointed senior resident magistrate.
She said the defence and prosecution could then advance “whatever arguments before the judicial officer who will be seized with the matter”.
Advocate Molati immediately told the court that he and his clients were only hearing it for the first time that the case was ready to be set down for hearing.
“We haven’t seen the directive and we don’t have a docket in our possession. We are not aware that the case is ready to be set down for hearing.
“If at all the position is that the matter is ready to be set down for hearing then I would argue that it would not be proper to do so when we haven’t seen the docket.
“Every accused person has a right be given the docket for him to prepare his defence,” Advocate Molati said.
His arguments were however, not enough to sway Magistrate Banyane who had already made her ruling.
Asked by Ms Banyane if he would press ahead and argue for the release of his clients in terms of the Speedy Trial Act during next Wednesday’s appearance before the senior resident magistrate, Advocate Molati said, “We will cross that bridge when we come to it”.
The five army officers were then remanded in custody until their next court appearance next Wednesday.
One of the accused, Brigadier Mphaki, faces a separate murder charge along with seven other seven army officers for the deaths of three Maseru men in May 2017.
Brigadier Mphaki is charged alongside Sergeant Lekhooa Moepi (43), Captain Mahlehle Moeletsi (50), Lance Corporal Mahlomola Makhoali (32); Private Nthatakane Motanyane (24), Motšoane Machai (39), Liphapang Sefako (48) and Nemase Faso (28).
The soldiers allegedly strangled Lekhoele Noko, Molise Pakela and Khothatso Makibinyane at Setibing in rural Maseru on 16 May 2017 and dumped their bodies in the Mohale Dam.
The deceased trio had just been released from custody after being initially implicated in the killing of an army officer and a street vendor at Maseru Border Post in May last year.
Subsequent police investigations revealed that they were not linked to the killings.
However, the soldiers decided to take the law into their own hands and allegedly kidnapped them before strangling them.