MASERU – Acting High Court Judge Charles Hungwe has advised three murder accused police officers to accept state-funded lawyers or risk representing themselves when their trial resumes next week. Judge Hungwe issued a stern warning on Wednesday this week when the officers – Superintendent Mathibeli Mofolo, Inspector Mabitle Matona and Police Constable (PC) Haleokoe Tasoane – appeared in court for the resumption of their trial.
They are charged along with one Thabo Ts’ukuli in relation to PC Mokalekale Khetheng’s murder which happened in 2016. They appeared without their lawyer Advocate Zwelakhe Mda on Wednesday and rejected state- funded lawyer, Advocate Thulo Hoeane, who has been appointed to represent their interest.
“I put it to them that they will represent themselves should Mr Mda be absent during the next court date,” Judge Hungwe said.
Hoeane came into the picture following last week’s decision that pro deo (state funded) counsel should be availed to all the accused persons in the case. Judge Hungwe’s decision followed Advocate Karabo Mohau KC’s withdrawal as Ts’ukuli’s counsel.
Mohau withdrew his services in the middle of the trial last Friday just when the crown was expected to call the first witness. He had also informed the court that Adv. Mda is unwell and has asked him to inform the court. When he produced Mda’s sick note, the judge said Mda should have sent a lawyer to stand in for him.
Judge Hungwe eventually ruled that the matter should go ahead but was compelled to postpone it when Mohau said he was withdrawing his services. The withdrawal he said was due to the state’s failure to pay him.
Mohau represented Ts’ukuli pro deo. Justice Hungwe then postponed the trial to Wednesday (28 April 2021) to allow the Registrar to arrange pro deo counsel for all the accused. Determined to make progress on the matter, Judge Hungwe experienced yet another hiccup when Mofolo, Matona and Tasoane rejected Adv Hoeane.
They told judge Hungwe that to their knowledge, they are still represented by Advocate Mda and would therefore not be accepting Adv Hoeane. Their co accused, Ts’ukulu nonetheless accepted Lesutu who he was also appointed to represent him pro deo.
After numerous submissions, Justice Hungwe said the accused should be ready to represent themselves on the next appearance should Advocate Mda be absent. The court then set May 5 to 7, and 17 to 21 of the same month as the trial date. Justice Hungwe also ordered Hoeane to be present on May 5 to represent the accused should they change their mind.
Khetheng went missing after he was arrested by his colleagues at a traditional feast in his home village of Sebothoane, in Leribe on March 25, 2016. It is alleged that instead of duly booking him, Hlotse police handed him over to their colleagues from Maseru who were in the company of members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF).
His disappearance then prompted his father Thabo Khetheng to lodge an application before the High Court on July 18, 2016 demanding that he be produced in court dead or alive but police authorities defended the matter in court, contending Khetheng had absconded from duty and his whereabouts were unknown.
Police also accused the senior Khetheng of deliberately omitting crucial information in his court papers. They contended that Khetheng’s father clearly had no “intimate” knowledge of his son’s movements and whereabouts. One of the police officers who arrested Khetheng at his home in Sebothoane, Leribe later testified against her superiors when the matter continued in court.
Makotoko told the court she arrested Khetheng along with Constables Mphutlane and Ntoane before handing him over to their superior officer, Inspector Mofolo who headed the Criminal Detective Division (CID).
On August 11 last 2017, Khetheng’s body was exhumed at the Lepereng Cemetery in Maseru. As part of the investigations, three employees of the Lesotho Funeral Services were also detained and interrogated by police.
Former defence minister, Ts’eliso Mokhosi along with ex-police commissioner Molahlehi Letsoepa were the high profile people charged with the murder. Mokhosi was discharged while Letsoepa’s whereabouts remain unknown. His body was subsequently exhumed in August 2017 at a mass grave at the Lepereng cemetery on the outskirts of Maseru.