FOUR senior lawyers were on Friday cleared of contempt of court charges in connection with their failure to appear in court on Monday to represent the 10 soldiers who stand accused of murdering three civilians in Maseru on 16 May 2017.
The four are Advocates Karabo Mohau, Napo Mafaesa and Motiea Teele, as well as Attorney Qhalehang Letsika.
They failed to appear in the High Court on Monday to represent their murder-accused clients and this forced Botswana judge, Kabelo Lebotse, to postpone the trial of the 10 soldiers which was scheduled to run from Monday until 28 February 2020 to 23 to 27 March 2020.
The 10 soldiers are Brigadier Rapele Mphaki, Sergeant Lekhooa Moepi, Captain Mahlehle Moeletsi, Lance Corporal Mahlomola Makhoali, Private Nthatakane Motanyane, Motšoane Machai, Tieho Tikiso, Pitso Ramoepana, Liphapang Sefako and Nemase Faso.
They 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 soldiers allegedly kidnapped and murdered the three men after their release from police custody where they had been detained in connection with a shooting incident that occurred at the Maseru border on 13 May 2017.
Only Advocate Letuka Molati, who represents Brigadier Mphaki, Captain Moeletsi and Private Sefako was present in court on Monday.
Adv Mohau KC represents Major Ramoepana, Adv Teele KC represents Private Faso, Attorney Letsika represents Sergeant Moepi, Lance Corporal Makhoali, Private Motanyane and Private Tikiso while Adv Mafaesa represents Private Machai.
Irked by the lawyers’ absence, Justice Lebotse ordered that the four lawyers should tomorrow “show cause” why he cannot hold them in contempt of court.
“Adv Qhalehang Letsika, Adv Karabo Mohau, Adv Napo Mafaesa and Motiea Teele must appear before this court on 28 February 2020 at 9.30am and show cause why they should not be held to be in contempt of court,” Justice Lebotse ordered.
The Botswana judge also ordered the High Court Registrar to “appoint pro deo counsels for all accused persons whose lawyers did not show up in court”.
On Friday, the four lawyers were cleared of the contempt of court charges by Justice Lebotse who conducted the hearing in chambers.
This was confirmed by one of the lawyers, Adv Mafaesa, who told Sunday Express that, “The court was satisfied with our explanation”.
He however, did not elaborate as to what transpired in chambers except to say that “we gave our explanation and he (Justice Lebotse) was satisfied”.
“Because of the principle that what takes place in chambers between the judge and lawyers cannot be said in open court or in public, I am unable to say what our reasons were,” Adv Mafaesa said.
Meanwhile 10 soldiers have rejected the pro deo counsel the court had ordered Assistant Registrar of the High Court Advocate, Stafford Sharite, to recruit to represent them after the non-appearance of their lawyers.
Adv Sharite said the accused do not have any challenges with their legal representatives and as such “no pro deo counsel was appointed for any of the accused”.
The murder case will now proceed from 23 to 27 March 2020.