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New twist to editor shooting trial

Tefo Tefo

THE much-awaited trial of five army officers for the attempted murder of the Lesotho Times editor, Lloyd Mutungamiri, failed to kick off as expected on Thursday amid indications by the accused that they want Senior Resident Magistrate, Phethise Matanyane, to recuse himself from presiding over their case.

The five appeared before Magistrate Matanyane on Thursday but their lawyer, Advocate Kabelo Letuka, immediately informed the court that they intended to formally apply for the senior magistrate to recuse himself from the case for undisclosed reasons.

Mr Mutungamiri was shot at his Upper Thamae home, allegedly by the five soldiers, in the late hours of 9 July 2016 after arriving home from work.

The five army officers are Brigadier Rapele Mphaki (47), Khutlang Mochesane (57), Mahanyane Phusumane (37), Nyatso Tšoeunyane (41) and Maribe Nathane (35).

Their lawyer, Adv Letuka, on Thursday told Mr Motanyane that his clients wanted him out of their case for reasons which would only be disclosed when the recusal application is made.

“We intend to make an application that your worship should recuse himself,” Advocate Letuka said.

Mr Motanyane then ordered Adv Letuka to file a formal application for the former’s recusal so that it would be argued on 29 March 2018.

“This case is postponed to 29 March, 2018 to hear argument on the recusal application,” Mr Motanyane said.

The postponement further delayed the case which had been slated to begin after the Acting Director of Public Prosecutions, Adv Hlalefang Motinyane, last month directed that the case should be heard by a magistrate of the rank of Senior Resident Magistrate.

It was previously presided over by Resident Magistrate, Polo Banyane, who had only been remanding the accused each time they appeared before him while awaiting the finalisation of the prosecution’s case.

The new development to file a recusal application however comes at a time when the prosecution had already told the court that it was ready to prosecute the case as the investigations into the near-fatal shooting were complete.

The five soldiers were subsequently sent back to prison where they will await their next court appearance on 29 March 2018.

One of the accused, Brigadier Mphaki, also faces a murder charge along with seven other soldiers in connection with the strangling of three men whose bodies were subsequently dumped in the Mohale Dam in May 2017.

Brig Mphaki is charged alongside Sergeant Lekhooa Moepi (43), Captain Mahlehle Moeletsi (50), Lance Corporal Mahlomola Makhoali (32), Private Nthatakane Motanyane (24), Brig Rapele Mphaki (47), Motšoane Machai (39), Liphapang Sefako (48) and Nemase Faso (28).

The eight soldiers allegedly waylaid and strangled Lekhoele Noko, Molise Pakela and Khothatso Makibinyane at Setibing in the rural Maseru on 16 May 2017 before dumping their bodies in the Mohale Dam.

Prior to their alleged murder, the three men were arrested in connection with the killing of an army officer and a street vendor at the Maseru Border Post in May last year.

They were subsequently released after police investigations revealed that they were not linked to the border incident.

However, the eight soldiers decided to take the law into their own hands and allegedly kidnapped them before strangling them.

 

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