Mahao murder trial begins

Mahao murder trial begins

MASERU-THE first state witness in the Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao murder case is set to testify in court today after the accused soldiers’ bid to have the presiding judge recuse himself failed.
Former army boss, Lt Gen Tlali Kamoli and eight other soldiers are being charged with Mahao’s murder in June 2015.
The trial comes after the soldiers’ bid to have High Court judge, Justice Charles Hungwe, recuse himself from the case failed on Tuesday. The soldiers had accused the judge of being biased.
They argued that Justice Hungwe would sentence them to death upon conviction as pushed by the prosecution, especially after uttering words suggesting he already perceived them guilty when he handled their application for bail.

Prosecutor Advocate Shaun Abrahams said the case proceeds today with the first witness taking the stand.
The witness will be expected to testify in the murder case of Lt Gen Mahao, who was killed in June 2015 “under the guise of arresting him for mutiny against” Lieutenant General Kamoli.
Lt. Gen. Mahao was assassinated by his juniors on his way from his Ha-Lekete rural home in Koro-Koro on June 25, 2015.
The soldiers had sought to have another judge handle the case, arguing that Justice Hungwe had described them as “part of the gang or military officers who took down the deceased”, Lt Gen Mahao.
“The conclusion and classification of an army operation as a gang suggests that the learned judge has already made a finding that we were acting improperly and unlawfully in effecting the arrest,” Sergeant Motsamai Fako, one of the accused, had said.

“It is clear on reading the judgment that the learned judge not only restricted his reasoning to the facts before him concerning the bail application but he went further to traverse the very merits that form the subject of the current criminal trial,” he said.

Justice Hungwe dismissed the application before him on Tuesday on the grounds that issues raised by the soldiers had no evidence to back up their claims of bias.
“The applicants have formulated the case on a wrong set of facts” that he once called them “a group or gang which shot to kill the army boss Maaparankoe Mahao” and that he is “aware of Kamoli’s attitude”.
Justice Hungwe stated that their application did not have merit and the fact that he ruled negatively on Sergeant Motsamai Fako’s bail application did not mean that he will rule against them in the murder trial.
The soldiers who lodged the recusal application against Justice Hungwe are Sgt Fako, Corporal Motšoane Machai and Corporal Tšitso Ramoholi.

Their lawyer, Advocate Kabelo Letuka, said the judge seemed to be biased when he said the accused soldiers were part of the “gang” that gunned down Lt Gen Mahao.
He further argued that they were also stunned by the prosecution’s push for the death penalty.
“The same judge presided over Fako’s bail application and did not only gain prior knowledge of the facts pertaining to their case but also went further to make prejudicial comments about the evidence to be led on trial,” Advocate Letuka argued.

“Therefore the judge should disqualify himself,” he said.
Advocate Letuka said the accused asserted that it is fundamental to the administration of justice that a presiding officer should be an impartial, open minded and (informed) adjudicator. The only facts about the case which he should gather are those which are proved before him in court in the usual manner.

He said the accused are apprehensive that the judge had already found them guilty.
However, Advocate Abrahams said the issues raised by the applicants lacked merit.
He said the accused soldiers knew that all their cases would be presided over by foreign judges who lack enough information about their backgrounds.
Advocate Abrahams told Justice Hungwe on Tuesday after the dismissal of the recusal application that he intends calling the first witness today.

Itumeleng Khoete

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