The criminal case in which four soldiers are accused of attempting to kill the former news editor of Lesotho Times, Lloyd Mutungamiri, took a dramatic turn in court on Wednesday when it was revealed the accused want the charges against them be dropped.
The accused are Rapele Mphaki, Khutlang Mochesane, Nyatso Tšoeunyane and Maribe Nathane. Initially, the quartet was charged alongside Mahanyane Phusumane who has since admitted to testifying for the crown against his accomplices.
Phusumane was supposed to take the stand to testify before the court on Monday as the second witness after Mutungamiri but the defence expressed dissatisfaction with his stand as a state witness.
Advocate Letuka Molati who represents Mphaki, said the defence doubts the credibility of the witness before the court since he was initially among the accused.
The defence argued that turning a person who is privy to its defence strategy a witness would compromise a fair trial – a cornerstone of democratic societies.
As a result, the accused four have applied for leave to approach the Constitutional Court for an order compelling the state to drop the charges against them.
Advocate Karabo Mohau (KC) who is part of the defence team, told the court that: “We are on firmer grounds to object to him being called as a witness because that tramples on the rights of our clients to a fair trial.”
Mohau added: “It is a tried constitutional principle that constitutional matters will be decided by the High Court provided they are ripe for hearing, in other words, ripeness is a cardinal principle that drives constitutional cases, and the case is now ripe for the court to be properly seized with it.”
But advocate Rethabile Setlojoane, representing the crown, has a problem with how the defence is handling the matter.
Setlojoane rebuked the procedure which he said was unfamiliar to him.
“…We object to this kind of procedure. I have never seen such a procedure in my few years of practice unless I may be corrected. They ought to have given notice to the court that they are going to file a substantive application so that we could be given the opportunity to oppose the application,” he said.
Mutungamiri was shot on July 9, 2016, where he was left for dead but cheated death after his wife and neighbours hurried him to the hospital.
In his testimony in March this year, Mutungamiri said after sending the newspaper for publication at 11 pm on that fateful night, he left for home only to find four men he could not identify due to darkness tailing him to the gate at Upper Thamae in Maseru.
He said as he parked the car in front of the gate he suddenly felt his head exploding, only to realise that he was shot on the right cheek with the bullet shattering through his lower jaw as the shooters sprayed him with bullets.
He said another bullet broke the teeth and punctured his tongue as it paved its way to the bottom of the left ear where it got stuck.
Magistrate Murenzi gave Setlojoane a chance to file an opposing affidavit which he will file in 14 days. The court will reconvene on the matter on August 30, 2022.