THE Court of Appeal has ordered the immediate release of seven police officers who were convicted and imprisoned for five years each for the manslaughter of a suspected robber, Festo Stephano.
Justices January Msoffe, Nathalia Kimaro and Sauda Mjasiri reached the decision after allowing the appeal lodged by three of the seven police officers to challenge the verdict and sentence given on June 21, last year, by Judge Sam Rumanyika of the High Court at Tabora.
"We find that the appeal has merit. We allow the appeal, quash the convictions and set aside the sentences. We order the release of the appellants from prison unless they are held there for lawful cause," they ruled.
Along Inspector Baraka Hongoli, other appellants were Corporal Swahibu and Detective Constable Jerry.
The other four officers who had not lodged any appeal but benefited from the court's decision are Police Constable Charles, Detective Constable Shamsi, Detective Constable Amran and Detective Corporal Mawazo.
The justices noted that the summary the trial judge gave in association of the police officials in the commission of the offence was not borne out by the evidence adduced and the law.
"To a large extent his summary of the reasons why he convicted the appellants was speculative and self-contradictory because he also said in the judgment that the matter was not sufficiently investigated," they said.
The justices added, "Trial courts have to be guided by the evidence before it in determining the issues which arise in the cases brought before them and not speculation.
We hope these remarks will assist the learned trial judge and others to properly conduct the trials before the trial courts."
During the trial, the seven police officers were charged with the murder of Stephano on August 6, 2011 in Rungwe Mpya village in Kasulu district, Kigoma region.
At the end of the trial, all the accused persons were found guilty and convicted of the lesser offence of manslaughter.
It was alleged that the deceased and his brother, Masumbuko Christian, who was among the prosecution witnesses, were arrested by militiamen in connection with a robbery committed at a tobacco plantation in the village.
They were locked up in the office of the Ward Executive Officer awaiting collection by the police. The appellants arrived from Kasulu Police Station to collect the deceased and Christian.
The court was told that the deceased was severely beaten up by the police using bamboo sticks, gun butts and also cut him with broken bottle fragments until he lost consciousness.
Prosecution witnesses further alleged that the duo were subsequently put into a vehicle which had ferried the appellants to the village and were driven away.
The deceased was later taken to hospital after his condition worsened, but he subsequently died shortly upon arrival at the hospital.
The death led to the arrest of the appellants and were charged with murder. The appellants denied beating either the deceased or his brother Christian.
They claimed that the deceased died while attempting to escape from police arrest when he jumped from the speeding vehicle while on the way to Kasulu police station.