Home Crime & Courts Principal Chief dodges death sentence

Principal Chief dodges death sentence

by Lesotho Times
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…as court rules his beliefs in witchcraft are an extenuating factor

Moorosi Tsiane

MURDER convicted Principal Chief of Tšakholo, Tebang and Ha- Seleso, Khoabane Mojela, has breathed a sigh of relief after the High Court resolved not to sentence him to death.

Justice ‘Mabatṧoeneng Hlaele ruled that she was convinced there were extenuating circumstances which led to Chief Mojela fatally shooting his cousin, Tšenolo Letsie, whom he suspected of bewitching him.

Chief Mojela’s lawyer, Advocate (Adv) Jafta Thamae, successfully convinced Justice Hlaele that witchcraft was a serious issue in rural areas which could be used to cripple or kill a person.  A belief in witchcraft was therefore a valid extenuating circumstance, Adv Thamae said.

Chief Mojela shot Mr Letsie on 18 May 2020 in Mafeteng and the latter died in hospital on 2 June 2020.

After he was found guilty by the court on 14 February 2024, Chief Mojela roped in Adv Thamae to save him from being hanged. He had just fired his previous lawyer, Adv Nketsi Makhera, who had been representing him during the trial until his conviction.

In mitigating the sentence, Adv Thamae submitted this week that his client felt threatened and believed that the deceased was using witchcraft in an attempt to kill him.

“Extenuating circumstances do exist in this matter. The accused person had removed the deceased from being a headman of one of the villages in Mafeteng,” Adv Thamae argued.

“The accused believes in witchcraft hence he believed the deceased was consulting witchdoctors in order to harm him. He is a normal human being. He was impulsive because he believed he was going to be killed through witchcraft.”

He further submitted that his client did not premeditate killing Letsie hence he even handed himself over to the police after shooting him. He was also a first-time offender. He adhered to his bail conditions as he attended the case proceedings to finality.

He further added he was a married man with a son who was poised to succeed him. He emphasised that the son still needed grooming from his father (the accused). He therefore asked the court to impose a minimum sentence on the accused.

“The accused fired a single shot. If he had planned to kill the deceased, he would have fired more shots. He even handed himself over to the police. There was no premeditation. Following the death of the deceased, the accused approached his family and offered to compensate them, but his offer was rejected. The accused is still willing to raise the ‘head of the deceased’ (compensate his family).”

In opposition, Crown counsel Adv Lehlanako Mofilikoane, submitted that the belief in witchcraft did not constitute an extenuating factor, and therefore Chief Mojela had a motive to kill.

“The accused failed to convince the court that he believed in witchcraft, he did not act based on that belief. The accused is an elderly person, also a principal chief who is expected to protect his subjects and act responsibly.

“Murder is a serious offence in this country. Majority of defenceless people are killed using dangerous weapons. The offer of compensation to the family of the deceased should not affect the sentence as the accused was not remorseful. He used his gun irresponsibly. The deceased suffered before he died as he was paralysed due to the gunshot injuries,” Adv Mofilikoane said.

She further argued that Chief Mojela had disappointed his subjects and other chiefs.  The court should therefore impose a deterrent sentence to send a strong message to other chiefs that they were not above the law. She requested that Chief Mojela be sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Following the two parties’ submissions, Justice Hlaele agreed with the defence that witchcraft could be an extenuating factor for a person who was bred in the rural parts of the country where people strongly believed in voodoo magic.

“Following addresses in extenuation, the court made a finding that a belief in witchcraft by the accused who was raised and lived in a rural setup where people have the same belief, could talk to the issue of extenuation.

“The court has also found that there is lack of planning on the part of the accused. Therefore, the court rules that extenuating circumstances exist in the matter and that it is therefore prompted the court not to hang the accused but impose another sentence. The sentencing will be on 21 March 2024,” said Justice Hlaele.

Justice Hlaele’s courtroom was packed with people who wanted to witness this rather peculiar case where a community leader would kill one of his people. Chief Mojela enjoyed the moral support of other Principal Chiefs such as Chiefs Khoabane Theko of Thaba Bosiu, Lerotholi Seeiso of Likhoele, Peete Lesaoana Peete of Kueneng and other members of the Senate.

 

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