31 January 2013

Namibia: Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied ? Two Freed in Wojatschek Murder Case

The two men charged with the murder and robbery of elderly Okahandja goldsmith, Ludwig Franz Wojatschek (79), were found not guilty in the Windhoek High Court yesterday by Judge Naomi Shivute after they spent over a decade in detention as trial-awating suspects.

After a long and arduous trial, Joseph Gavin Gariseb and Deon Garoëb, who both were only 18 years old at the time of their arrest, finally tasted freedom after more than 10 years behind bars.

Judge Shivute told the court during the judgment that the only evidence linking the two accused to the crimes were the VCR and gold rings that they allegedly sold to one of the state witnesses, Johannes Haimbodi, but that it was never proved that the property belonged to the deceased.

She contended that serious doubt exists on the identification of the exhibits. According to Judge Shivute, the police did a sordid job in the identification of the suspected stolen items. The only person who testified to the identity of the 'stolen items', Dawid Willem Fredericks, was a single witness and did not describe the items to the police before he was shown the items. She emphasised that while Fredericks called the VCR 'unique' he at first could not describe to the police what it looked like and only recognised it after the police showed it to him.

Judge Shivute took pains to explain her findings, quoting from the testimonies of various witness - state and defence alike - and called the police interrogation of the suspects 'torture'. She said the so-called confessions of the accused were coerced and were not made freely, thus making them inadmissible. The judge pointed out that she found it strange that one Attab, who was the one who actually sold the VCR and rings, was never charged.

She said the state's explanation that the only evidence linking the said Attab to the crime was the fact that he was in possession of the items suspected to have been stolen from the residence of Wojatschek, did not hold water since that was the crux on which the state's case rested against the two accused. What she failed to understand, the judge remarked, is whether the police actually had a case against the accused and added that the state failed miserably to establish a prima facie case.

Judge Shivute also said that she looked carefully at all the evidence before her, but could not find that the state proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the two men are guilty of the crimes they were accused of and as such found them not guilty on all charges.

The two men went through a second High Court trial over the murder of Okahandja resident Wojatschek between September 14 and 15, 2002. Wojatschek was found dead in his house on September 15, 2002 after he was beaten to death.

According to the charge sheet, the deceased was hit several times on his body and head with a wheel spanner and/or firearm and/or other blunt objects.

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