Thabane murder trial in false start

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Mohalenyane Phakela

THE much-anticipated murder trial of former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and his wife, ‘Maesaiah, failed to take off Tuesday because the prosecution had not provided the accused with the requisite witness statements ahead of the trial.

The presiding judge, Molefi Makara, who had set aside other matters to expedite the Thabanes’ trial, was forced to postpone it to 28 April 2022 to allow the defence lawyers to be given the witness statements.

The Thabane trial is one of 35 criminal cases that the High Court had especially enrolled to run from February to 29 April 2022.

Advocate Salemane Phafane KC is ‘Maesaiah’s lawyer while Attorney Qhalehang Letsika represents Mr Thabane.

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Hlalefang Motinyane, appeared in person to represent the Crown assisted by Adv Motene Rafoneke.

The Thabanes stand accused of the 14 June 2017 murder of Mr Thabane’s estranged wife, Lipolelo Thabane.

They are accused alongside the now deceased Famo artiste, Rethabile “Mosotho Chakela” Mokete, Molefi Matima (also deceased), Seabata Lieta and Macheli Koeshe. Messrs Lieta and Koeshe were not in court after they fled to South Africa.

The police accuse Mr Thabane and his wife of plotting the murder of Lipolelo to facilitate ‘Maesaiah’s ascension to the post of First Lady. Lipolelo had been estranged from Mr Thabane. But she had won the right to be recognised as the real First Lady and enjoy the benefits of that office because her long running divorce case with Mr Thabane had not been finalised when Mr Thabane returned for his second stint as premier in June 2017. Lipolelo was murdered two days before Mr Thabane’s inauguration. The police insist the only motive for her murder was to pave way for the “impatient” ‘Maesaiah to become First Lady since the courts had found in Lipolelo’s favour.  With divorce cases generally taking a long time to conclude in Lesotho, ‘Maesaiah is accused of having opted for the “quickest” and “easiest” way out in eliminating Lipolelo. She and Mr Thabane married shortly after Lipolelo’s death.

While Mr Thabane has not yet been formally charged for the Lipolelo murder, ‘Maesaiah was granted bail in July 2020 by the now deceased High Court judge, Thamsanqa Nomngcongo.

The Thabane couple sat close together in the dock while some of their loyalists such as former water minister, Samonyane Ntsekele, sat in the gallery among other members of the public.

And when Justice Makara ordered the charge sheet to be read to enable the Thabanes to plead, DPP Motinyane asked the court to adjourn so that she and the defence lawyers could have a discussion on some “housekeeping issues” with Justice Makara in his chambers.

The court then adjourned for about 30 minutes.  Upon the resumption of the proceedings, Justice Makara then disclosed he could not proceed with the trial because the defence had not been furnished with witness statements.

“We have had a constructive discussion and the emphasis was on mapping the way forward such that the court may be assisted to dispense justice expeditiously,” Justice Makara said.

“Counsel will meet on their own to discuss certain points and thereafter a pretrial conference will be held in court.

“It has unfortunately occurred that while the court thought everything was ready and we would immediately deal with this matter, it has surfaced that the Crown has not furnished the defence with statements from the police which are crucial for the accused to prepare their defence. That is a constitutionally rooted right of the accused for them to be abreast with the statements and other documentary basis upon which the charges raised against them are sustained.”

Judge Makara said it had also been brought to his attention that some of the accused persons were not before the court. The Crown should thus ascertain and clarify the situation regarding their attendance, he said.

“The court is committed to hearing this case expeditiously and on a continuous basis. I had already postponed other matters thinking this case would proceed today. This matter is postponed to 28 April 2022 for the pretrial conference. The hearing date will be identified after the pretrial conference.”

Justice Makara also ordered that the lawyers involved in the trial be available “at all material times” during the trial.

“It will not be an excuse that counsel is committed elsewhere… We want to ensure that justice is quickly determined. It is only fair and just if the accused go through the (trial) process and the court pronounces itself expeditiously. Judicial proceedings should not be a torturous process,” Justice Makara said.

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