Court frees trio after 3 years in jail
THE Court of Appeal on Monday released three people convicted of killing an initiate woman for ritual purposes three years ago after finding them not guilty of the crime.
In a case presided by Court of Appeal President, Justice Kananelo Mosito, Justice Lisebo Chaka-makhooane and Justice Moses Hungwe Chinhengo, the court ordered the release of Nyatso Ratalane (67) ‘Mapolao Pitso (73) and ‘Matumelo Mafenoane (37).
The court noted in its ruling that retired High Court judge, Justice Kelello Guni, had wrongfully convicted the trio of murder following the death of Matšeliso Mokhathatso on 12 October, 2005 at an initiation school in Thaba-tseka district.
Mr Ratalane was the owner of the female initiation school where Ms Mokhathatso died, while Ms Pitso and Ms Mafenoane were the instructors.
During the trial, the trio were charged with assaulting the deceased and mutilating her private parts.
Justice Guni sentenced them to 10 years in prison on 16 December, 2012 where they were incarcerated until their release.
In their appeal, which was lodged by Advocate Khosi Lesuthu, the three called for their release on the grounds that Justice Guni erred by disregarding the medical doctor’s report which did not support the allegation that the deceased’s private parts were mutilated.
According to the medical report, the deceased only sustained a head injury which the doctor said could have been the cause of death.
Advocate Lesuthu said Ms Mokhathatso had a “mental problem” and would be restrained with a rope “whenever she lost control”.
He said the deceased endured spates of “spiritual attacks” which she and her parents believed would be resolved through the initiation.
“One of the defence witnesses told the court that the head injury could have been a result of the deceased hitting the wall as people were struggling to restrain her with a rope,” Advocate Lesuthu said.
“The judge (Justice Guni) said the deceased died because her private parts were cut off but did not make a finding on the cause of death.
“There was really no evidence to support the conviction given to the accused.”
On behalf of the Crown, Advocate Lehlanako Mofilikoane told the Court of Appeal that the prosecution did not have direct evidence linking the accused persons to the commission of the offence.
“We only relied on circumstantial evidence but the deceased did not have injuries when she went for initiation,” argued Advocate Mofilikoane.
“However, her body had some injuries after her death, including the whip marks that were visible all over her body.
“The only people that could be linked to her death are the owner of the school and the instructors.”
The Court of Appeal, however, concurred with the appeal, ruling that Justice Guni’s finding that Ms Mokhathatso was mutilated contradicted the medical report that was presented during the trial.
Said Justice Chinhengo: “We have considered the appeal and we are satisfied that the conviction of the appellants is not sustainable.
“The appeal is upheld and the appellants are acquitted of the charges.
“The warrant of liberation should be issued immediately and full reasons of the judgment will be given at the end of this session.”
“The doctor had clearly stated that the cause of death was heart failure.”
The Court of Appeal set the trio free immediately without waiting for the date on which all judgments would be delivered.
Other judgments of the second session of the Court of Appeal, which started on Monday, would be delivered on 6 November, 2015.