THE Chief Magistrate, ‘Matankiso Nthunya yesterday further remanded in custody five Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) officers charged with the attempted murder of the Lesotho Times Editor, Lloyd Mutungamiri, in July 2016.
Magistrate Nthunya told the five accused, who are Military Intelligence Commander, Brigadier Rapele Mphaki (47); Colonel Khutlang Mochesane (57), Mahanyane Phusumane (37), Nyatso Tšoeunyane (41) and Maribe Nathane (35), that the case will proceed before Senior Resident Magistrate Phenethi Motanyane, who was not available yesterday.
The five accused, who looked relaxed in the dock, are expected to appear before Mr Motanyane on Thursday 1 March, during when the court is expected to set a date when the trial will kick-start.
According to court papers, the LDF soldiers allegedly conspired to shoot Mr Mutungamiri, as he drove into his Upper Thamae home in the late hours of 9 July 2016.
It is understood that they confessed to committing the dastardly act during police investigations but argued that as soldiers, they were merely carrying orders from their superiors.
The suspects first appeared before the Magistrate’s Court in December 2017.
One of their lawyers, Advocate Letuka Molati, had argued for their release from detention in terms of the Speedy Trial Act but his efforts came to naught after Senior Crown Counsel, Lehlohonolo Phooko, on Wednesday last week, told the court that police investigations into the matter were now complete and that the case was ready to be set for hearing.
He added that “the directive from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) stipulates that the trial should be presided over by a senior resident magistrate”. Ms Banyane – who was presiding over the matter last week – then postponed the case to yesterday, for a senior resident magistrate to set a trial date.
She said the defense and prosecution could then advance “whatever arguments before the judicial officer who will be seized with the matter”.
One of the accused, the Military Intelligence Commander, Brigadier Mphaki, faces a separate charge of murder, along with seven army officers, for the deaths of three men in May 2017.
Brigadier Mphaki is charged alongside Sergeant Lekhooa Moepi (43), Captain Mahlehle Moeletsi (50), Lance Corporal Mahlomola Makhoali (32); Private Nthatakane Motanyane (24), Motšoane Machai (39), Liphapang Sefako (48) and Nemase Faso (28).
The soldiers 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.
This was despite the fact that police investigations had revealed that they were not linked to the killing of an army officer and a street vendor at Maseru Border Post in May last year.