Lawyer abandons Scott

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Advocate Hoeane pulls out of the Koalabata double murder trial claiming the judge is biased
Advocate Hoeane pulls out of the Koalabata double murder trial claiming the judge is biased

Advocate Hoeane accuses judge of bias as he announces he will no longer represent Scott and his mother ’Malehlohonolo   

Lekhetho Ntsukunyane

Justice Teboho Moiloa was yesterday forced to postpone the double-murder trial of Lehlohonolo and ’Malehlohonolo Scott to 16 May 2016 after their lawyer, Advocate Thulo Hoeane, decided to pull out of the case citing “professional reasons”.

The case resumed in the High Court this week after Justice Moiloa adjourned it on 23 November 2015. The Scotts, who lived not very far away from the families whose two children they allegedly butchered four years ago, pleaded not guilty when trial resumed on Monday.

However, Advocate Hoeane, who was appointed by government to represent the Scotts on a pro-duo basis, shocked the fully packed court when he announced his withdrawal as the trial was about to begin yesterday morning.

The lawyer told the court he could not continue for professional reasons, but later told the Lesotho Times in an exclusive interview that he decided to quit the case because he believed the judge was biased against him.

“I fully consulted with my clients yesterday. I sat down with the first accused (Lehlohonolo) in the presence of the second accused (’Malehlohonolo). We reached a decision, basing ourselves on professional reasons and nothing else, that I should withdraw from this matter,” Advocate Hoeane told the court.

“I was fully prepared to conduct this trial in defence of the accused, which is why I have been here since this matter resumed on Monday. But I have reached a conclusion that it looks like I am not fully representing my clients under the prevailing circumstances. This purely has to do with my profession. I feel, under the circumstances, that I will not achieve the interests of my clients and the only option I have is to withdraw from this matter before it is too late.”

After verifying that Advocate Hoeane had indeed consulted with his clients over the pullout, Justice Moiloa said the court had no choice but to accept the decision.

“Under ordinary circumstances, the court would not allow your withdrawal because this is going to delay the trial. But it seems we have no alternative but allow you to withdraw,” Justice Moiloa said, adding the High Court registrar would appoint another lawyer to represent the Scotts.

The judge then postponed the matter to next month.

However, while Advocate Hoeane was not clear before the court what he meant by “professional reasons”, he later told the Lesotho Times he was not happy with the way Justice Moiloa had conducted the trial since it started on Monday hence his decision to withdraw. He was particularly unhappy when the judge ruled out his argument that evidence presented by the police on Tuesday, was not admissible, Advocate Hoeane added. Asked why he did not apply for the judge’s recusal if he suspected he was biased, Advocate Hoeane said he did not believe his application would be successful hence his decision to quit.

“I have got reservations about the judge and the way this trial has been conducted. On a number of occasions, I have seen him come to the assistance of the prosecution—something I have not seen in my 28 years of legal practice.

“For instance, yesterday, the prosecution presented (photo) albums before the court. And the prosecution adduced evidence relating to those albums, about how the body parts of the deceased were retrieved from various places in Koalabata.

“What the prosecution should have done was when they closed their case, they should have handed in those albums as exhibits – something which they failed to do. When my turn came in the afternoon, I rose to confront the police witness to indicate to him that all the evidence that was led in the morning, according to actual terms or legal terms, it was not evidence before this court because it was not exhibited before the court.

“The prosecutor, Advocate Gareth Leppan, then rose to object to what I was saying, and the court just overruled me. And in my opinion that was un-procedural because if they fail to come up with the exhibits at the proper time, and that is in examination-in-chief, that is a fatal mistake which cannot be rectified. To rectify it would be prejudicial to the defence’s case. That is basically my standpoint.

“If a trial is conducted along lines which I perceive to be unfair, then I have no business being the legal representative of these accused persons. I will only be here if I feel the atmosphere is conducive such that I am allowed to conduct this trial in  a manner the accused will feel they are being legally represented. Under the circumstances I don’t have that feeling.

“My only option is to opt out of this case. I was engaged by the government. I was identified through the registrar of the High Court as one of the competent and capable people who could handle this matter, but under the circumstances, I don’t think I can continue.”

Meanwhile, a member of the accused family, Rethabile Scott, said it was disappointing that Advocate Hoeane had withdrawn from the case.

“It’s sad that Advocate Hoeane has to withdraw from the case because he knows it better. He had developed good rapport with the accused such that there was trust. Now we don’t know when the new lawyer will be available to take over, and what his or her attitude would be,” said Rethabile.

However, the chief investigator in the case, Senior Inspector Mpheheletse Khatleli, told the Lesotho Times that Advocate Hoeane’s withdrawal was allegedly part of Scott’s strategy to delay the case.

“He played the same game in Durban, where he continually changed lawyers to drag the trial. It seems he is applying the same tactic now. As investigators, we just want this matter to come to an end because we worked so hard to put together the evidence involved. It was not easy extraditing this man from South Africa where he was now living after escaping from prison here in 2012,” Senior Inspector Khatleli said.

Efforts to secure comments from Justice Moiloa through his office and the prosecution, were unsuccessful.

Charges

The Scotts were arrested on 12 July 2012 for allegedly killing Moholobela Seetsa (13) and Kamohelo Mohata (22) in January and July 2012, respectively.

The victims’ body parts were found in three locations in Koalabata, prompting speculation they had been killed for ritual purposes.

Scott escaped from Maseru Central Correctional Institute on 14 October 2012 as he awaited trial and fled to South Africa where he was arrested in Durban as he emerged from a church service on 6 April 2014.

After unsuccessfully fighting extradition in the Durban and Verulam Magistrate’s Court, Scott was finally deported on 21 October 2015. His mother had been released on M500 bail in August 2013.

Scott appeared before the High Court the same day he was extradited, with Justice Moiloa remanding him in custody until 23 November 2015. The judge on 23 November 2015 announced the case would proceed from 11 to 15 April and 18 to 27 April 2016.

When the case got underway in the High Court on Monday this week, mother and son both pleaded not guilty.

On Tuesday, Detective Lance Sergeant Liau Seeko submitted two albums containing pictures he took at the crime scene as evidence, and gave graphic details of each picture he said were the deceased’s body parts.

Lance-Sgt Seeko told the court that Mohata’s torso was recovered from a donga approximately 3-5 kilometers from the Scotts residence. The officer further told the court the following day, the police retrieved some of Mohata’s body parts from a toilet pit at Koalabata Primary School.

These parts included legs, lungs and intestines wrapped in yellow and black plastic bags, Lance Sergeant Seeko added. The officer further said part of Mohata’s liver had been cut and was missing. Lance-Sgt Seeko was led by prosecutor Advocate Gareth Leppan, who was being assisted by Advocate Thapelo Mokuku.

When it was Advocate Hoeane’s time to cross-examine the officer after lunch, the lawyer told the court that the prosecution had not followed the right procedure by submitting the albums to the court as evidence.

Advocate Hoeane argued the prosecution should have “formerly” submitted the albums as exhibits at or during the time they were leading Lance-Sgt Seeko in his evidence.

He argued it would be “prejudicial to the defence” if the court allowed the albums as evidence under those circumstances. But Advocate Leppan rose to object to this submission, arguing the omission was not prejudicial to the accused.

Advocate Hoeane’s argument was then immediately dismissed by Justice Moiloa, who had repeatedly asked the lawyer whether he was finished as he addressed the court.

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