MASERU — “You are returned to custody and you will be hanged by your necks till you are dead.”
With those words Justice Kelello Guni sealed the fate of Thabiso Kopano and Litaba Ramone, the two men convicted of the gory murder of Utloang Rotheli in 2005.
The judge ruled that Kopano and Ramone had “premeditated and planned the murder” of Rotheli whom they had accused of stealing a car he had sold them.
During the trial the court heard the harrowing details of how the two had beaten and shot Rotheli in Thaba-Tseka and then followed to “finish him off” when he was admitted at Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in Maseru.
The year 2005 was barely a week old when a weak Rotheli was wheeled into Queen Elizabeth II Hospital.
He had been transferred from Paray Hospital in Thaba-Tseka where he had been initially admitted with life-threatening stab and gunshot wounds.
He was in pain but after a few days he was getting better.
But little did he know his attackers, Kopano and Ramone, still wanted to “finish him off”.
And on January 10, a few days after he had been admitted, Kopano and Ramone allegedly slithered into the hospital and headed for his bed in Ward 4.
They pumped three bullets into Rotheli, leaving him dead.
That’s the chilling testimony that ‘Mamothepane Rotheli, the deceased’s sister-in-law, told the court during the murder trial.
The state alleged that the suspects first attacked Rotheli in Thaba-Tseka after accusing him of stealing a car he had earlier sold to Kopano.
They shot and stabbed him.
And when he was later transferred to Queen Elizabeth II Hospital they followed and killed him.
‘Mamothepane, who had come from Thaba-Tseka to Maseru to look after Rotheli, told the court that she witnessed the murder.
The murder happened around 6 am, she said.
‘Mamothepane said she had come from Thaba-Tseka to take care of Ronteli while he was in hospital.
She explained that on that fateful morning she had met Kopano and Ramone on the doorway as she was going to the toilet.
“I was not far away from Ronteli because I could still see him on his bed,” she said.
She said the two men were moving around the ward “like they were looking for someone and I was afraid because I knew they were the ones who had shot and stabbed Ronteli in Thaba-Tseka”.
Then she heard three gunshots.
“When I looked back I saw the two men running in different directions,” ‘Mamothepane recounted.
“Thabiso (Kopano) was running towards the toilets and Litaba was coming from behind me. I fell down and Litaba (Ramone) walked past me. There was commotion in the ward.”
She said when she came back with the nurse on duty they found that “they had finished Rotheli”.
“Police showed me three bullet shells,” she said.
Justice Guni ruled that there were no extenuating circumstances to justify a lenient sentence for the convicts.
“You are found guilty of murder with direct intention to kill,” the judge said.
“We have found that the accused persons premeditated and planned the murder of the deceased.”
When Justice Guni said they would be hanged, Kopano and Ramone looked shocked.
The judge pointed out that it was only where extenuating circumstances existed in murder and treason convictions that capital punishment could be spared.
Advocate Motene Rafoneke had argued that the relationship between the convicts and Rotheli was already bad even before the eventual killing.
He also said the court should find extenuating circumstances in the fact that the convicts believed that Rotheli had stolen their car.
But Justice Guni rejected that argument saying even if there was the “flimsiest support for theft” the convicts should have reported the matter to the police at the earliest opportunity.
She said because the police report was made later “it could have been an afterthought”.
Advocate Peleha Joala appeared for the crown.
Although capital punishment is still meted in other countries opposition against it is growing.
Those against capital punishment say it leaves no room for rehabilitation and that it’s excessive.
They also say there is always a chance that some of the people condemned to hang might have been unfairly convicted.