Sparks fly in Moramotse murder case
- as senior lawyer Phafane accuses police of torturing minister’s son to confess to crime,
THERE was drama in the High Court yesterday when Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Hlalefang Motinyane and prominent lawyer, Salemane Phafane KC, clashed in the ongoing murder trial of Local Government and Chieftainship Affairs Minister, Lehlohonolo Moramotse’s son, Thabo Moramotse.
This after Advocate Phafane had sensationally accused Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), Motlatsi Mapola, of torturing Thabo to force him to confess to murdering the minister’s daughter-in-law, ‘Mateboho Moramotse, on 22 June 2016.
But DPP Motinyane, who has personally taken charge of prosecuting the case, demanded a trial within a trial. She poked holes into the defence case by bringing a Maseru Magistrates’ Court clerk, Likhapha Letsie, who testified that she had interviewed Thabo who said he had not been under any duress from anyone and had voluntarily made his confession to the crime.
In the face of Ms Letsie’s potentially damaging testimony against his client, Adv Phafane then asked Judge Semapo Peete to place it on record that he had objected to Ms Letsie being brought in to testify.
Adv Phafane had initially attempted to stop Ms Letsie from testifying on the grounds that DPP Motinyane was “ambushing” him and his client with a witness who was not on the initial witness list.
In his subsequent cross-examination of Ms Letsie, he berated her for allegedly arrogating to herself the functions of interviewing suspects who came to court when hers was merely to usher them to the magistrates’ offices for adjudication of their cases, including making any confessions. Her testimony was thus inadmissible, Adv Phafane argued.
It remains to be seen how Justice Peete will rule on Ms Letsie’s submissions when the case continues today.
The slain ‘Mateboho, who was shot dead as she drove into the family’s Qoaling residence, was wife to Thabo’s younger brother, Nduma. The state alleges that Thabo murdered ‘Mateboho because he suspected her of having an illicit affair with his father, Mr Moramotse.
Thabo and Nduma are both sons of Mr Moramotse, the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC)’s legislator for the Lithoteng constituency.
Although ‘Mateboho was murdered in 2016, Thabo was only arrested in August 2020. His co-accused Tekane Tekane and Pako Sekhonyana are now deceased. It is not clear when they both passed away but their deaths left Thabo as the only suspect. The state believes the two were murdered to foil the case.
Thabo had fled the country to avoid trial after his appearance in court for his routine remand on 14 September 2020.
The trial had initially been set for 21 September 2020 but it failed to proceed due to Thabo’s absence. On that day, Justice Hungwe issued a warrant for Thabo’s arrest and postponed the trial to 19 October 2020.
Still, Thabo was nowhere to be found and Justice Hungwe then set 16 to 30 March 2021 as the new trial dates.
Again, on those dates, Thabo could not be found. The trial was finally able to begin last week after Thabo handed himself to the police who then detained him. Last week, his father, who is a state witness, bizarrely testified that he was not even aware that Thabo was an accused in the case. This despite that Thabo’s arrest over the murder case and his subsequent flight from justice are in the public domain.
When proceedings resumed on Tuesday, Adv Phafane came out guns blazing, accusing ACP Mapola of torturing Thabo to get him to confess to the murder. Thabo confessed before Magistrate Phethise Motanyane who recorded his confession back in 2016. Magistrate Motanyane has since died. The investigating officer, Lance Sergeant Moeketse, is also late. All this has made it difficult for the state to prove that Thabo voluntarily confessed to the crime.
Nonetheless, Adv Phafane insisted that ACP Mapola had suffocated his client with a tube before sending him to the late magistrate to make his confession to the murder of his sister-in-law.
He alleged that after Thabo reported to ACP Mapola’s office on 16 August 2016, the senior cop purposely dismissed Thabo’s wife, Matumelo, and his grandfather, Tsietsi, who had accompanied him so that he could “deal” with the minister’s son.
“I put it to you that you ordered both Matumelo and Tsietsi out so that you could deal with the accused person (Thabo),” Adv Phafane charged.
“This is what you did after you were left with him in your office. You ordered him to strip off his clothes while you were swearing at him. You then instructed him to lie down and you sat on top of his back. You placed a tube around his mouth and nose thus suffocating him. The suffocation was on and off and you rehearsed with him what he had to tell the magistrate. On the third time he couldn’t take it anymore and he agreed,” said Adv Phafane.
He alleged that his client thus did not freely confess to murdering his sister-in-law but only did so in fear of further torture by ACP Mapola.
“He (Thabo) never volunteered to make a statement and this was not the first time as he had been to Lithoteng Police Station where he had shown that he was not willing to make any statement. But he couldn’t endure the brutal treatment especially because police are known for brutally treating detainees and there are cases that have been decided by the courts to that effect. Police brutally beat suspects to a point where they force them to eat their own faeces,” Adv Phafane charged.
He then pleaded with Justice Peete to throw out Thabo’s confession on the grounds that it had been allegedly obtained from him under duress.
“My Lord, the said confessions should not be used before this court. They are inadmissible because my client was forced to confess,” Adv Phafane argued.
This prompted DPP Motinyane to object and request a trial-within-a-trial.
“My Lord, we are asking for a trial within the trial. The onus lies with the Crown to prove that the confessions were indeed voluntarily,” said DPP Motinyane.
On his part, ACP Mapola denied ever torturing Thabo to get him to confess.
“The accused was never tortured and he went to the magistrate out of his own goodwill. After he arrived at my office, I cautioned and advised him to see his legal representative first but he insisted that he wanted to go to the magistrate and he would see his lawyer when he returned.
“When he returned from the magistrate, he gave me an envelope which contained his confession. I opened it and read it. It was exactly what he had told me.
“He was not coerced to go there but he voluntarily went to confess. He is now lying that he was tortured. If he was tortured he could have pressed charges but that has never happened. He actually looked relieved upon his return from the magistrate. When he first came to my office, he had been teary, saying he wanted to say out what was on his mind,” said ACP Mapola in his re-examination by DPP Motinyane.
Adv Phafane had furiously objected to Ms Letsie’s presence because she was not on the initial witness list.
“My Lord, the said witness was never on a list of witnesses which the Crown furnished us. Therefore, we object that she be called to testify as we see this as a trial by ambush. The Crown is now investigating the case from the bar,” Adv Phafane argued.
DPP Motinyane counter-argued that since this was now a trial-within-a-trial, she was well within her rights to call in another witness to verify ACP Mapola’s statement.
“We are now in a trial-within-a-trial and My Lord, we are calling in this other witness to testify that the accused was not forced to make a confession but it was voluntarily. My Lord, I’m so determined to pursue this matter that even if the court wants me to file heads of arguments I can gladly do so,” DPP Motinyane said.
Just as Justice Peete was considering postponing the matter to today to give the two parties enough time to sort their differences over Ms Letsie, Adv Phafane requested that the matter should proceed. He however, said he wanted it placed on record that he had objected to Ms Letsie testifying.
“No. Your Lordship…. I suggest that we proceed for the sake of my client because we don’t want this case given to another judge when you leave by the end of this month,” said Adv Phafane. Justice Peete – who has already retired – was temporarily brought back to help clear the huge backlog of cases at the High Court. His recall expires at the end of this month.
Ms Letsie insisted she had welcomed Thabo at the magistrates’ court when he came to make his confession in 2016. She said she had asked him whether he had been forced to do so but he denied that he had been under any duress.
“On the said day I received a call from ACP Mapola telling me that there was someone who was coming to my office to make a confession. Indeed, after a short while, the accused arrived with some lady and I asked him who he was and what he had come for.
“I asked him whether he had been forced to come but he said he had not been forced. So, I gave him a form and ushered him to Magistrate Motinyane’s office. I was later called by the magistrate and I was given his (Thabo’s) confession. I called ACP Mapola and he said I should give it to the accused who would then hand it over to him (Mapola),” Ms Letsie said.
In cross-examining Ms Letsie, Adv Phafane said she had no business interviewing people who came to court.
“I put it to you that you have no business asking people any questions. Yours is just to usher them to the magistrate’s office and nothing else. You have no idea what transpired between the accused and the magistrate and you equally have no idea of what happened at the police charge office. Your observations are totally irrelevant to this case,” Adv Phafane said.
The case proceeds today when Adv Phafane will continue cross-examining Ms Letsie.