Zimbabwe: Editorial Comment - Let the Police Build a Case for Ali Murder

NOT many people have come out well from the sad killing of Moreblessing Ali, a respectable municipal police officer working for Chitungwiza Municipality, but the CID Homicide unit have, five days after the discovery of her body, located and arrested the prime suspect and now need to be left to complete their investigation.

Homicide is the cream of the CID and assignment to the unit means you are one of the top detectives of your rank in the police. When there is a killing and probable murder, the unit will assign a team of detectives who work full time on just that one case, seeking the killer and assembling the evidence.

Their success rate is exceptionally high since manpower and resources are available to solve a murder and bring a killer to justice, manpower and resources that are not ordinarily available for lesser crime unfortunately.

That was one of the problems that the Ms Ali case faced in its early stages, when police had a suspected case of domestic violence and a missing person report.

Once the mutilated body was discovered on Saturday last week, there was a sharp jump in resources and, as is usually the case, CID Homicide were able to find the man they were anxious to interview, arrest him and will bring before the courts for initial remand.

At the same time there will be detailed forensic evidence collected, both a very careful autopsy of the body along with whatever can be collected from the shallow well where the remains were dumped and from other areas.

This is all routine in a murder investigation so that when the person the police reckon did it goes to trial, the prosecutor can normally present a great deal of supporting evidence. Killers rarely confess and usually kill without a witness, so this is essential.

The other point about a homicide investigation is that the detectives do not really care about the status of the deceased person or the status of the suspected killers.

They apply the same resources to the murder of a beggar as they do the murder of a prominent person, and they are just as willing to arrest a prominent person as they are a beggar.

They are at the level where they see the humanity of the dead and the individual responsibility of the suspect.

But at the same time, the person arrested is legally innocent until proven guilty, and his trial will be in the High Court before a judge and assessors, not before a lynch mob roaring through the streets.

There is no such thing as "instant justice". When people take the law into their own hands they are acting like those white racists in the deep south of the United States stringing up the nearest black person after a crime.

The tragic killing of Ms Ali has been exploited by a large number of people.

Her immediate family can and should be excused from the remarks they have made.

Their reaction was typical of families consumed by grief and perfectly understandable. They wanted her back, and if they cannot have her back, they want her killer locked away forever.

Others have no excuse. There is a major difference between someone pressing the police to devote more resources to a missing person report and possible domestic violence report, and someone peddling conspiracy theories without a shred of evidence.

The report of domestic violence was vague, unfortunately, but there was probably enough for those concerned over Ms Ali's disappearance to press the police to at least seek the probable person.

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One issue that did arise is that while several patrons of the bar where the initial altercation took place saw something, only a good friend and colleague of Ms Ali, who was inside at the time, took the trouble to make a police report the following morning, and she was unable to give anything more than hearsay evidence.

Ms Ali's relatives noted that it would have been far more helpful if others who actually saw something had made a report that night to the police, or at least bothered the following day. Someone was certainly very violent outside the bar that night. Sometimes we need to care and call the cops.

Much earlier extra information could have been given to the police.

The family even had legal representation, and that lawyer is also an MP. So in both capacities he could have seen the officer-in-charge of the station, and if necessary the officer-in-charge of the district, and pressed for more urgent action in light of what the family knew of the ended relationship and any suspicions they might have had.

Instead this lawyer, who is a top official of the CCC, appears to have peddled a conspiracy theory based on the fact that the ex-boyfriend was the half-brother of a local Zanu PF politician and that therefore the whole disappearance was a political action.

Yet if some disreputable relative of that lawyer, and everyone has dubious relatives, burgled the house of someone who happened to be a Zanu PF supporter, he would be the first to object if he was accused of organising a political hit, and rightly so.

Zimbabweans tend to be too relaxed about domestic violence, even with the major campaigns in recent years, and we need to be ready to interfere more often.

Missing person reports have always been difficult for the police, at least when adults go missing. Legally an adult can just push off and it took time for people to come forward and add extra details of probable violence in this case.

The autopsy report is not a public document, but it appears from body descriptions that the death took place soon after Ms Ali went missing, so even the most determined action would unlikely to have saved her life.

But the investigations were caught up in the conspiracy theories with all sorts of other information, much of which was probably rubbish. But the police have to look at it.

So bad did everything become that lynch mobs did form, people quite happy to act as judge, jury and executioner in extra-legal processes. And that is something that will wreck any society.

There is no fine line between giving police as much information as possible and seeking more police action on one side and forming lynch mobs on the other.

There is a huge gulf.

What is now needed is to let the detectives assemble the evidence, offer them any relevant information they might not have, and let them get on with building a solid case.

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