After being delayed by a few judicial impediments, the long awaited trial of six police officers who are accused of murdering one Italy Keedirile Setlampoloka back in 2009 kicked off before Gaborone High Court Judge Leatile Dambe on Wednesday.
The six police officers, all stationed at Mogoditshane Police station, are facing numerous charges of murder, destroying evidence, unlawful disposal of a dead body and giving false information to a person employed in the public service. On the first count of murder, the six police officers, Detective Assistant Superintendent Dithuso Dintwe, Sub Inspector Ranto Mmeleki, together with Constables Tebogo Khutsafalo, Kabo Moffat Ramohibidu, Michael Ramhitshana and Patrick Gobotswang are accused of murdering Setlampoloka on 29th July 2009, acting jointly and in concert at Mogoditshane. On the charge of destroying evidence contrary to section 119 of the Penal Code, Constable Patrick Gobotswanag is accused of destroying a plastic and tire tube that were used to torture Setlampoloka, knowing full well that the two items could be required in evidence during judicial proceedings. The six police officers are also accused of disposing of Setlampoloka’s dead body at Serokolwane lands when there was reasonable cause to suspect that he had died as a result of a criminal act.
On count four, the six police officers are charged with giving false information to a person employed in the public service contrary to section 131 of the Penal Code. On August 6th 2009, the six accused are alleged to have given false information to Detective Senior Superintendant Mosalagae Moseki to the effect that Setlampoloka, who was arrested as a suspect in a number of robbery cases, had escaped unlawful custody and later committed suicide, which information they knew was false and intended to cause Detective Superintendent Moseki to open an inquest docket.
The state has called around 19 witnesses to submit evidence against the six police officers.
The trial kicked off in earnest on Wednesday, with attorney Busang Manewe appearing as defense counsel for Dintwe, Ramatshibana and Gobotswanag while Kgosietsile Ngakayagae represented Mmeleki, Khutsafalo and Ramohibidu. Dumisani Marapo is the state prosecutor.
First on the witness stand was Othusitse Molaabatho, a 46 year old man who works as a driver and resides at Senamakola lands. In his summary of evidence, Molaabatho said he saw a white van that looked like a Nissan Double Cab on July 29th at around 21:00 hours when he reached the gate to Senamakola lands on his way from the cattle post. He met the vehicle as it was coming from the direction of the lands. The same later van appeared again and passed him on the way.
Molaabatho told the court that the van had civilian number plates. At some point it took off when he approached it.┬á On the afternoon of the next day, one Phenyo Seitei (also a state witness) came along and told him that he had seen a man lying in the bush. Together with one Otladisa Gosekwa, they went to investigate and found the man sprawled on the ground, motionless and unresponsive. He was tied with a rope across his mouth. Molaabatho also said the man was lying in the same spot where he had seen the Nissan van the previous night.
The defense lawyers tore Molaabatho’s evidence apart during cross examination. The witness kept on contradicting himself as Manewe and Ngakayagae grilled him on the direction from which the car was coming and whether it was directly involved in the alleged crime. While he stated in his statement that the Nissan van was at the scene of the crime, Molaabatho later admitted under cross examination that the van was located 600-700 meters away from the scene of the crime. He also admitted that he saw the Nissan van from a distance and could not ascertain whether it was next to the dead body or just stationary.
Asked why he called the police when he didn’t know whether the person lying on the ground was dead, Molaabatho angrily responded, “I am not a medical doctor.” On more than six occasions, the witness distanced himself from the statement that the police officers had written on his behalf. He accused the police of lying and writing falsehoods, insisting that he never said the words that were written in the statement. He openly told the court that he was not happy with the way the police had handled the matter particularly in relation to how his statement was written.
“I didn’t write that statement because I am not very conversant with English. But it was wrong for the police to write a defective statement on my behalf. I never said some of the things that are on that statement,” he said. The trial will resume next week Thursday as the state calls more witnesses.