MASERU — A police intelligence officer who was last year convicted of his wife’s murder will now serve four years in jail after the Court of Appeal ruled on Friday that there were extenuating circumstances.
Mokete Mokhobo was last May sentenced to 25 years in jail by High Court judge Justice Kelello Guni.
He then appealed the sentence.
In slashing the sentence Court of Appeal President Michael Ramodibedi, sitting with Justices Craig Howie and Noel Hurt, said Justice Guni had failed to deal with the extenuating circumstances surrounding the case and “committed a fundamental gross irregularity”.
The High Court heard that Mokhobo and his wife had quarreled after the wife arrived late from a work-related activity.
The wife, ’Makananelo, who was working at the Lesotho Funeral Services in Maseru, travelled to Butha-Buthe for the opening of a new branch in 2008.
She however returned home late which angered the husband, the court heard.
Justice Guni found that ’Makananelo was taken to her home by the company’s deputy general manager, one Mapesela, and a colleague Mojabeng Matsoso who told Mokhobo that they were just returning from the company event.
The reason for accompanying ’Makananelo to her home, the judge found, was that she was worried that her husband would be angry and so she wanted Mapesela to go with her to corroborate her explanation that they did not go anywhere other than Ha-Rampai where the company was opening the branch.
Upon arrival at her home Mokhobo refused to open the door until Mapesela urged him to do so.
However, when he opened the door he did not even reply to Mapesela’s greetings but angrily asked where she had been and when she responded that she was at the company event in Ha-Rampai he expelled her together with Mapesela and Mojabeng.
Mokhobo also started hitting her with the butt of a gun, the court heard.
Mapesela tried to calm him, telling him he should not break the law because he was a police officer but he ignored his pleas.
He prepared his gun to shoot and Mapesela and Mojabeng ran away.
They then went to the Lithoteng police station.
The Lithoteng police refused to go to Mokhobo’s home when Mapesela told them that he had pulled out a gun and was assaulting his wife.
Police from Ha-Thamae later found ’Makananelo dead with a gun wound.
Mokhobo, who pleaded not guilty to a charge of murder, told the court that his wife shot herself accidentally when they were fighting over possession of the gun.
Justice Guni however did not believe his explanation.
The judge said just before Mapesela and Mojabeng left Mokhobo’s home in a hurry, they heard him barking at his wife: “Go with them!”
Shortly thereafter they heard ’Makananelo cry out: “Jo Ntate Mapesela, Ntate Mokhobo has pulled out a gun. He wants to shoot me!”
Mokhobo’s defence was also that he left ’Makananelo and her two colleagues at his house when he went into a café to buy cigarettes and ’Makananelo chased after him in an attempt to take the gun from him.
Justice Guni said: “Could she chase after an intelligent police officer, who is also a member of intelligence, seize him while he was unaware and reach for the gun which he had taken on his person specifically to defend himself against the unexpected attack in the night in that neighbourhood?”
The judge also said: “The two witnesses, that is Mojabeng Matsoso and Mr Mapesela, also support the evidence that the accused was armed with a loaded and corked gun – ready to fire.
“Mojabeng saw the accused load and cork his gun. Mr Mapesela became aware of that fact a little while later,” he said.
However, on Friday Justice Ramodibedi found that Mokhobo killed his wife through an act of negligence as he did not handle the gun properly like a trained police officer.
The judge said Mokhobo was not supposed to wrestle with ’Makananelo over the possession of the gun because he knew well that it could trigger easily as it was corked.
“Since it is clear that such negligence was a cause of the death of the deceased, the appellant was guilty of culpable homicide,” he said.
He quoted from the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act 1981 which says “where the High Court convicts a person of murder, it shall state whether in its opinion there are any extenuating circumstances and if it is of the opinion that there are such circumstances, it may specify them”.
“It is plain from this section that a determination on whether or not extenuating circumstances exist is mandatory,” Justice Ramodibedi said.