Nteso’s widow weeps as his killers get 20 years

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Mohalenyane Phakela | ‘Marafaele Mohloboli

TWO police officers who were last month convicted of murdering Lesotho Electricity Company (LEC) auditor, Thibello Nteso, were yesterday sentenced to 20 years in jail.

The duo, Police Constables (PCs) Moeketsi Dlamini and Monaheng ‘Musi, are members of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service’s (LMPS) Special Operations Unit (SOU).

They were found guilty of the 6 February 2017 murder of Mr Nteso and damaging his Mercedes Benz sedan by shooting at it.

High Court Judge Moroke Mokhesi convicted them of murder on 10 December 2020. He however, deferred sentencing to yesterday. This after their lawyer, Advocate Lebohang Ramakhula, filed an application for leniency on 15 December 2020.

Adv Ramakhula had pleaded with Justice Mokhesi not to impose capital punishment on his clients as there were allegedly extenuating circumstances which the court had to take into consideration when sentencing them.

He said his clients never intended to kill Mr Nteso in the first place and they were sorry he had died.

However, in imposing the sentence yesterday, Justice Mokhesi said that Mr Nteso did not pose any threat to Dlamini and ‘Musi who he said merely killed him for ignoring their unlawful order not to approach his vehicle.

Mr Nteso had going to his vehicle after leaving the house of an LEC colleague who lived next to former Police Commissioner Molahlehi Letsoepa.

The two police officers claimed they had already spotted a firearm holder in Mr Nteso’s car leading them to believe he was in the area to harm former Commissioner Letsoepa.

They had then fired at him when he allegedly did not obey their order. The officers claimed Mr Nteso had fired at them, a claim rejected by the judge.

Justice Mokhesi said he had concluded that the two cops had “callously” murdered Mr Nteso as there was no exchange of fire between them and him.

“I have considered the facts put forth by your counsel as constituting mitigating factors and facts put forth as showing your remorse,” Justice Mokhesi told the two as he read out his sentence.

“I have also considered the seriousness of this crime given that you are police officers expected at all times to act with self-restraint and not impulsively and irrationally like you did in this case.

“The circumstances of this case are disturbing and disheartening. The offence was committed by law enforcement officers in the circumstances which were quite frankly unwarranted. The deceased had parked his car near their duty station (Letsoepa’s home) without blocking the entrance thereto.

“It was only the accused’s unwarranted sense of nervousness and the feeling of insecurity that led to their callous acts. It was unwarranted because the officers were fully armed and could have easily defended themselves against an attack but they allowed themselves to act amateurishly. The deceased was not a threat to them. His only crime was ignoring the accused unlawful orders for him not to access his car.

“The impact this callous murder must have had and continues to have on the deceased’s young family is immeasurable. It is not an insignificant thing to lose one’s parent at a young age and in circumstances such as this case. The deep emotional scar this murder should have had on the deceased’s wife, children and his immediate family is bound to last for a considerable time.

“In the result, the appropriate sentence which takes care of both charges (murder and damage to property) in my considered view is the following: Moeketsi Dlamini is sentenced to imprisonment for a period of 20 years without an option of a fine. Monaheng ‘Musi is sentenced to imprisonment for a period of 20 years without an option of a fine,” Justice Mokhesi ruled.

The ruling precipitated a torrent of tears from Ms Nteso’s widow, ‘Malehlohonolo Nteso, who had been visibly emotional throughout the proceedings.

Seated in the gallery along with relatives and clad in a pink seshoeshoe dress, Ms Nteso had been teary-eyed from the minute Justice Mokhesi ordered Dlamini and Musi to stand up before he pronounced the sentence.

She covered her face with her right hand as she wept uncontrollably. Attempts by her relatives to console only succeeded in aggravating the situation.

Even after Dlamini and ‘Musi had been escorted back to prison, she remained in the corridors of the court building, mourning her slain husband.

Mr Nteso’s brother, Tankiso, stood in front of her and watched as Dlamini and ‘Musi, who were shackled together from their hands to their feet, were escorted to prison under heavy guard.

“This is quite a sad time which has brought back memories of the pain of our family’s loss. As you can see, my sister (‘Malehlohonolo) cannot even speak.

“Even if they were slapped with a 100 years jail sentence each, that would still not bring back my brother. We are only relieved that justice has taken its course. My sister will have to raise her three daughters alone while their father’s killers are fed through taxpayers’ funds,” an equally emotional Tankiso said.

Dlamini and ‘Musi were initially charged alongside Superintendent Tlali Phatela and Senior Inspector Thaele Ramajoe who allegedly ordered the cover-up of the murder by tampering with the crime scene.

However, Inspector Ramajoe and Supt Phatela were acquitted of the charges in March last year after the court ruled that there was not enough evidence linking them to the crime.

It was the state’s case that Musi and Dlamini were on guard duty at the Maseru West home of then Police Commissioner Letsoepa when they shot Mr Nteso on 6 February 2017.

The constables claimed they had suspected a plot to attack the former police commissioner after they noticed a firearm holder in the late Mr Nteso’s car which was parked near Mr Letsoepa’s residence.

They fired shots at Mr Nteso’s vehicle at about 9pm that night to stop him as he was driving away from the residence of a senior LEC officer who lives near the former police commissioner.

Mr Nteso was later pronounced dead on arrival at Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital that night.

Musi had argued that they shot Mr Nteso in self-defence.  He said that Mr Nteso fired at him first when he was telling him to step away from his (Mr Nteso’s) car. He said they did not intend to kill Mr Nteso but merely to stop him so that they could arrest him.

However, Tankiso alleged that his brother was killed because he was working on a forensic audit report on the LEC.   A few days after the shooting, Tankiso told the Lesotho Times that his brother had confided in him that he had been handling a big case of embezzlement of funds from LEC coffers involving more than M170 million.

However, there was no evidence led in court about those claims

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