. . . as murder accused soldiers’ trial drags on

Judge bemoans sluggish court processes

RELEBOHILE TSOAMOTSE

Maseru -The trial of 10 soldiers accused of strangling three people erroneously detained for the murder of a soldier at Maseru Border Gate turned on its head this week when a judge ordered the Crown to indict the accused to avoid further delays. High Court judge, Justice Tseliso Monaphathi on Monday underscored the need for process to be served so there are no hurdles when the trial starts in earnest.

This after defence attorney Qhalehang Letsika has bemoaned the inordinately long time it had taken the Crown to serve the accused with indictments and witness statements. The case has been pending for over a year as the Crown scours the region for judges to hear the contentious case. Justice Monaphathi postponed the case to December 11 this year after Letsika had expressed disquiet over the Crown’s failure to expedite the matter.

Letsika was frustrated that his clients’ case was being stalled by the search for a foreign judge. “We are dealing with a simple case of murder, whether committed by a lawyer, judge or anybody else, it does not change anything but we are always told that there are judges coming from the other side of the region each time we appear before this court,” he said. It is believed that a foreign judge is expected in the country in two weeks’ time.

Government announced last week that the process of hiring foreign judges had been completed. The soldiers 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), Major Pitso Ramoepane and Tieho Tikiso.

They are accused of murdering Lekhoele Noko, Molise Pakela and Khothatso Makibinyane after the trio was released from police custody where they had been detained for allegedly murdering a soldier and a street vendor at the Maseru border post in May last year. It is alleged that the soldiers strangled the trio after they had just been released from police custody where they were detained in connection to the said shooting incident at the border post.

Only five suspects were initially charged on 25 September last year but the number increased to 10. The accused will appear before court again on December 11 for updates in their case. Before postponing the case, Justice Monaphathi advised that those involved in the case to ensure that all is put in place so that when the trial eventually commences, there would be no further delays.

He said this would help prevent a situation where the foreign judge would arrive and find a house in disarray. “Why has there been a delay in furnishing the statements? We have some history in this court whereby a judge was engaged all the way from Uganda but learned upon his arrival that there has not been an exchange of the statements. I hope there will not be that trouble,” Justice Monaphathi said. “It concerns me that there has been a delay in this case, that is as far as I can go,” he added.

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