FOUR prominent lawyers representing some of the murder-accused soldiers face imprisonment after failing to appear before Justice Kabelo Lebotse in the High Court on Monday.
The non-appearance of Advocates Karabo Mohau and Motiea Teele, Attorney Qhalehang Letsika and Advocate Napo Mafaesa forced Justice Lebotse to postpone the trial of the 10 soldiers which was scheduled to run from Monday until tomorrow to 23 to 27 March 2020.
The 10 soldiers are Brigadier Rapele Mphaki, Sergeant Lekhooa Moepi, Captain Mahlehle Moeletsi, Lance Corporal Mahlomola Makhoali, Private Nthatakane Motanyane, Motšoane Machai, Tieho Tikiso, Pitso Ramoepana, Liphapang Sefako and Nemase Faso.
They allegedly strangled Lekhoele Noko, Molise Pakela and Khothatso Makibinyane at Setibing in rural Maseru on 16 May 2017 and dumped their bodies in the Mohale Dam.
The soldiers allegedly kidnapped and murdered the three men after their release from police custody where they had been detained in connection with a shooting incident that occurred at the Maseru border on 13 May 2017.
Only Advocate Letuka Molati, who represents Brigadier Mphaki, Captain Moeletsi and Private Sefako was present in court on Monday.
Adv Mohau KC represents Major Ramoepana, Adv Teele KC represents Private Faso, Attorney Letsika represents Sergeant Moepi, Lance Corporal Makhoali, Private Motanyane and Private Tikiso while Adv Mafaesa represents Private Machai.
Irked by the lawyers’ absence, Justice Lebotse ordered that the four lawyers should tomorrow “show cause” why he cannot hold them in contempt of court.
“Adv Qhalehang Letsika, Adv Karabo Mohau, Adv Napo Mafaesa and Motiea Teele must appear before this court on 28 February 2020 at 9.30am and show cause why they should not be held to be in contempt of court,” Justice Lebotse ordered.
The Botswana judge also ordered the High Court Registrar to “appoint pro deo counsels for all accused persons whose lawyers did not show up in court”.
“This matter is postponed to 23 to 27 March 2020 at 9.30am.”
Justice Lebotse made the order after inquiring from the Crown Counsel, Adv Shaun Abrahams, and each of the 10 soldiers about the whereabouts of their lawyers and whether or not they were still represented by their lawyers.
“The sense I get from accused is that they do not know why their lawyers are not in court and this shows that we have a situation where lawyers show discourtesy to the court. I will rein on that conduct. We can see there is a concerted effort to frustrate this case.
“You (accused) know we have been playing this see-saw with your lawyers not consistently coming to court which makes me doubt whether they are still your lawyers. I have told you previously that beggars should not be choosers, the state will assist you. The order that the court will make is whether they are still your lawyers or not.
“I am going to order the registrar to appoint pro deo counsel and if you refuse to meet them (pro deo lawyers) in prison, you will come and conduct your own defence. I do this in the interest of justice and it is in pursuit of that principle that you are given this indulgence,” the judge said.
Adv Abrahams had said he had not received any communication from the accused’s lawyers.
However, Adv Molati explained that he heard that Attorney Letsika was representing Prime Minister Thomas Thabane in another court.
“He should be in any minute because he is the one who reminded me about this case,” Adv Molati said.
However, Justice Lebotse said: “it would be unfair to postpone the case because he was appearing for the Prime Minister”.
“If that is what he is going to tell me, tell him (Letsika) that I am not going to entertain it,” Justice Lebotse said.
For his part, Assistant Registrar Advocate Stafford Sharite reported that he had conducted pro deo interviews for the accused persons but none of them were interested in being provided with state counsel.
“All accused persons have legal representatives, they do not have any challenges with their legal counsel and as such, no pro deo counsel was appointed for any of the accused persons,” Adv Sharite said.