Mzuzu Cops plead ‘not guilty’ to cell murder: Startling revelations

Six Criminal Investigations Department (CID) Officers have pleaded not guilty to murder charge in a case where they are accused to have clobbered to death a suspect who was in custody.

The much awaited trial, which commenced at Mzuzu High Court on Tuesday, is closely watched and is seen as a test case of how much ingrained impunity is there in the Malawi Police Service contrary to statutory limitations.

The accused

The accused;  Inspector Gertrude Mukhondya of Katutula village, Traditional Authority Mwaulambia in Chitipa District,   Constable Bertha Mtandi Chavula of Mtandi village, Traditional Authority Mponela , Dowa district, Constable George Kamphe of Phetembe village, Traditional Authority Mponela, Zomba district.

Others are: Constable Joel Kapunda of Chilumphala Kamanga Village, Traditional Authority Mtwalo in Mzimba district, Constable Lucious Mpakeni of Ganya village, Traditional Authority Ganya in Ntcheu district and Constable Victor Nsoloma of Nachamba village, Traditional Authority Machinjiri in Blantyre, have been charged with murder contrary to section 201 of the Penal Code.

Msiska was brutalised to death by Police. Photo-Nyasa Times

The six were arrested on April 18, 2012 in connection with the death of Edison Msiska.

Police arrested Msiska, a former Natural Resources College student,  on January 25 2011 at Mzuzu Bus Depot on suspicion that he was found in possession of goods the police believed were stolen, an accusation the family dismissed.

A post-mortem by histopathologist Dr Charles Dzamalala revealed that Edson died due to ‘hemorrhages consistent with persistent assault delivered over a number of days.’

He had a broken neck, was bleeding in the brain, heart, chest cavity and in the abdomen, according to the report.

Eight witnesses

The State which comprises Senior State Advocate Josephine Gwaza from the Director of Public Prosecutions and Assistant Commissioner of Police Barbra Mchenga said it will parade eight witnesses.

But on Tuesday only three witnesses took to the stand.

In the immediate aftermath of Msiska’s death, the Police spin championed by Northern Region Police Operations Officer Isaac Maluwa and Northern Region Public Relations Officer Sub Inspector Norrah Chimwala insinuated that Msiska was a victim of mob justice after his arrest.

Court testimonies

But details to the contrary have started to emerge through state witnesses two of whom are Cops from Mzuzu Police Station and a member of the Community Policing.

Mphatso Phiri, a Community Policing member from Salisbury Township, told the Court that on 25th January, 2012 around 6am at the Matabwa market he met Msiska carrying a bag.

Phiri said Msiska looked suspicious saying he was unkempt and one side of his pair of trousers was wet.

“I stopped him and asked what he was carrying in the bag and he expressed ignorance. He told me he was coming from a drinking spree at Paris Club Old Town and that he came across the bag and picked it.

“I then phoned CID Officer Joel Kapunda who interrogated him on the spot. But he changed his statement saying the bag he was carrying was a gift from his sister. Kapunda then arrested him after he learnt that he was giving conflicting statements,” Phiri said.

Phiri said he carried Msiska’s bag to Mzuzu Police Station since the suspect was handcuffed.

“Nothing happened here. He only complained of a hangover since he had been partying the previous night,” Phiri said.

During cross examination by one of the defence lawyer Christon Ghambi of Chram Associates, Phiri said when Msiska was apprehended and later taken to Mzuzu Police, there was no mob except the trio.

Startling revelations

Beatrice Mataliji, who was at the Police  counter when Msiska was brought in testified that he received him  as per rules and guidelines of the Malawi Police Service, which stipulate among other things that a suspect will not be put in custody if he is injured or sick.

“I saw him physically and he had no injury nor did he complain of any sickness at that particular time. During the course of my shift which ended at 2pm, Kapunda took the suspect twice. First to the CID office and later to Ekwendeni. All these movements I recorded in movement book which we use to record the movement of suspect in and out of custody. When he brought him back I had knocked off,” Mataliji said.

She said the next day when she reported for duties at 6am she did a roll call but Msiska failed to respond.

“In fact it was fellow inmates who responded at the same time informing me that Msiska could not stand, walk or talk audibly. When his brother and relative came to see him, he was assisted by fellow inmates to come to the counter. He asked them to buy some pain killers of which they did,” Mataliji said.

She said Msiska complained of general body pains, saying when she probed further Msiska showed him bruises and marks on his back.

But in cross examination Mataliji told the court she did know whether the bruises where there when Msiska was brought in since she did not ask him to take off his shirt.

Mataliji said Msiska’s condition did not improve on the 27th and 28th January, 2012.

“In fact on 28th January they wrote him a remand warrant so that he could be transferred to Mzuzu Prison but they backed off because of his condition. The Police took him again like the other days to the Police Dispensary for treatment,” she said.

Msiska’s death

Mataliji said when she came for duties on 29 January at 2pm she was told that Msiska has been taken to Mzuzu Central Hospital.

“But a few minutes later they told me he has died,” she said in sombre tone.

But another police officer had a different story.

“When I reported for duty at 6 am on 29th January 2012, I was handed over 31 suspects. Three were sick of which one was serious. The serious one was Edison. He could hardly walk, or stand and talked with difficulties. He showed me his back it was like somebody had been pressing his back with a hot iron,” Constable Bernard Pathumbo testified.

Pathumbo said Msiska told him that one of the CID Officers Victor Nsoloma had beaten him.

Pathumbo confirmed that Msiska died in Police Custody after several senior officers failed to heed the call to take him to Hospital.

But in cross examination by another defense lawyer George Kadzipatike of Jivason and Company, Pathumbo retracted his earlier statement that Msiska died in a Police Cell saying he died on a passage that separate the two cells.

“So which statement should the court take?  The statement that he died in a Cell is false? Should the court take that as a lie?” Kadzipatike queried.

But Pathumbo insisted that he died in a cell, saying Police consider the passage as a cell as well.

The case has since been adjourned to 21st August 2012.

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