LOCAL Government and Chieftainship Affairs Minister, Lehlohonolo Moramotse's murder-accused son, Thabo Moramotse, is a free man.
This after Judge Semapo Peete yesterday acquitted him on charges of murdering his sister in law, Mateboho Moramotse, in 2016. He was acquitted on the grounds that the Crown had failed to prove a prima facie case against him.
The state had based its case on Thabo's alleged confession to the crime. He allegedly made the confession before the now deceased Maseru Magistrate Phethise Motanyane in 2016.
It had also relied on a confession by one of Thabo's co-accused, Pako Sekhonyana, who is now deceased. Another co-accused, Tekane Tekane, is now deceased and this had left Thabo as the only accused on trial for the murder.
The slain 'Mateboho, who was shot dead as she drove into the family's residence 22 June 2016, was wife to Thabo's younger brother, Nduma. The state alleged that Thabo murdered 'Mateboho because he suspected her of having an illicit affair with his father, Mr Moramotse.
Thabo and Nduma are both sons of Minister Moramotse, who is also the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC)'s legislator for the Lithoteng constituency. Mr Moramotse was a state witness.
Testifying last month, Mr Moramotse bizarrely claimed that he was not even aware that his son had been arrested in connection with the murder. The minister's remarks were puzzling since Thabo's arrest over the murder case and his subsequent flight from justice in 2020 until he was arrested this earlier year are a matter of public record.
When he took to the stand late last month, Thabo disowned the confession he had allegedly made before the late Magistrate Motanyane.
Led in his evidence by his lawyer, Advocate Salemane Phafane KC, changed tack and accused Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Motlatsi Mapola, of torturing him to get him to confess to the murder.
ACP Mapola denied torturing him and insisted he had voluntarily made the confession. Justice Peete subsequently ordered a a trial within a trial with the aim of establishing whether or not Thabo had been tortured by ACP Mapola as he was now alleging.
On Tuesday, Justice Peete ruled that the alleged confession was inadmissible thus paving the way for Thabo's acquittal before the same judge yesterday.
In delivering his Tuesday verdict, Justice Peete agreed with the defence that the Crown had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the confession had been voluntarily made.
"After his arrest, did Pako Sekhonyana implicated the accused (Thabo) at the charge office? But can that statement of Pako implicate the accused in view of section 229 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act which says the statement of confession of one suspect cannot be used against any other suspect.
"Also hanging is the true agenda at the Moramotse family meeting after the alleged crime. It has not been clearly established why the accused was crying at Tšepong (Queen Mamohato Memorial Hospital) after 'Mateboho had been shot and also crying after the police interview (by ACP Mapola)," Justice Peete said.
In what is becoming the norm for judges in murder trials, Justice Peete had no kind words for the police who he lambasted for failing to properly investigate rampant killings in the country. He said they had failed to dig deeply into the Moramotse family relations for any possible motives for the murder. Therefore, the courts could not speculate hence the decision to reject Thabo's alleged confession, he said.
"The police's failure to investigate more deeply into family relations for any possible motives leaves much to be desired. These pertinent issues remain unclear and the courts should not speculate.
"In conclusion, it is therefore the view of this court that this confession stands to be held as inadmissible on the grounds of the mutual destructiveness of the defence and police versions. The onus was on the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt that these allegations (that the confession was made under duress) were false and a non-truth.
"The police should have gone extra mile to establish a sinister motive and plot to kill Mateboho and more importantly what was discussed at the family meeting. This case needed a dedicated team of investigators. Therefore the court rules that the confession is not admissible," said Justice Peete.
Following the Tuesday verdict, the court was adjourned to yesterday. This after the defence indicated that it would use the ruling as a basis to apply for Thabo's acquittal.
When the court reconvened yesterday, Adv Phafane argued for his client's acquittal on the grounds that the Crown did not have any evidence directly linking him to the crime.
"The salient question for determination is whether the Crown has advanced evidence on the basis of which a court acting carefully ought to or ought not to convict the accused," Adv Phafane argued yesterday.
"The facts in this case are that on 26 June 2016, 'Mateboho met her untimely death at the hands of unknown gunmen. The second truth is that even today the court still doesn't know by way of evidence, who the perpetrators of this heinous crime are. There was no ballistic evidence at all.
"Now the question is, do we know who killed the deceased and the answer is no. Sadly, the court hasn't been told who killed 'Mateboho. Therefore, the accused is entitled to be discharged because there is no iota of evidence implicating him to the crime. There is no direct evidence, no circumstantial evidence. It means he has nothing to defend. Why should he endure the agony when the Crown has failed to present a prima facie case against him," Adv Phafane further argued.
DPP Motinyane did not object to Adv Phafane's application for Thabo's discharge.
"My Lord, you already gave a ruling in regard to the confession, that it is inadmissible. The Crown has to agree that we failed to prove our case.
"The Crown was banking on the confession which was made by the accused. These heinous crimes happen at night where there are no people seeing. The court is left in the dark as to who killed the deceased. That could have been established with that confession. As the Crown, we tried everything we could but without the confession the mystery of this death cannot be solved. So, we are forced to close this case," DPP Motinyane submitted.
Justice Peete then granted the application for Thabo's discharge. He however, reiterated that the police should do a thorough job of investigating cases.
"As the court, we should mention that Lesotho is facing brutal killings. Women are being killed.
"This case has left one with questions about what is really happening in Lesotho. The court agrees with both the defence and the Crown that the application for discharge should be granted. The application is granted and the accused is found not guilty.
"However, the truth will one day surface and until then I hope the perpetrators will be haunted by this death until they go to an early grave. The truth about who shot 'Mateboho will come out. This is modern day cannibalism and it has been a sad case. I commend the DPP for the efforts she made. The DPP does not investigate cases; it is the police who should go to their greatest depths of investigating and bring thoroughly investigated cases to the DPP," Justice Peete said.
This is the second time in less than a month that the police have come under the spotlight for their failure to thoroughly investigate cases and present ballistic evidence to strengthen cases against suspects.
Last month, prominent businessman Tšeliso Nthane was acquitted of murdering his driver by then acting Judge Palesa Rantara on account of the prosecution's failure to prove beyond reasonable doubt that he had indeed committed the crime. Despite that his driver, Kopang Mohapi, was killed by a bullet fired from Mr Nthane's gun, the judge still acquitted him on the grounds that there was no evidence that he actually shot Mr Mohapi. Two witnesses testified that they had not seen Mr Nthane pull the trigger. In the absence of forensic evidence by the police proving that Mr Nthane had actually shot Mr Mohapi, the businessman had to be discharged, the judge ruled.
Rampant killings have consequently continued unabated, largely because of the failings of the police.