Trial of 12 suspects in person with albinism murder in Machinga faces further delays

Trial of 12 suspects, who include a Catholic priest, a clinical officer and a police officer, accused of murdering a person with albinism in Machinga is expected to delay further following a High Court order in Zomba to begin judicial review proceedings on the Director of Public Prosecutions’ failure to discontinue a case against the suspects.

The 12 people are suspected to have murdered Macdonald Masambuka, a boy with albinism in Machinga in 2018.

Dr Steve Kayuni

But almost two years after the case was concluded, the High Court is yet to deliver judgement on the case.

Two of the suspects argue that the trial court’s failure to deliver its judgement more than two years after hearing of the matter is, among others, violation of their right to personal liberty.

Reads the application dated March 29 2022: “A declaration that the omission or failure of the DPP [Director of Public Prosecutions] to discontinue the criminal proceedings against the applicants in homicide case number 69 of 2019, High Court Principal Registry, is violative of the applicants rights for personal liberty, not to be subjected to a cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and to be tried within reasonable time under respectively, Section 18, 19 and 42(2) (f) (i) of the Constitution.”

In a ruling dated April 7 2022, Judge Mzondi Mvula gave order for commencement of judicial review and that hearing of the proceedings should be expedited.

The court also directed that the defendants should within 14 days of receiving the application file their defence supported by a sworn affidavit, adding that the court will set a date for rescheduling conference not later than 28 days from the date of filing defence.

In an interview on Friday, Legal Aid Bureau director Masauko Chamkakala, whose organisation was representing nine of the 12 suspects, said the judicial review is a welcome development as the suspects have been in suspense for too long; hence, the need to conclude the case.

The Legal Aid Bureau filed in September last year an application to the High Court seeking bail for the suspects.

“That the length of time spent in custody before, during and after trial and the lack of certainty as to when judgement will be delivered herein is prejudicial to the accused person’s right to fair trial, which I believe, includes the right to a final disposal of the trial within a reasonable time,” reads part of the affidavit dated August 17 2021 from Legal Aid Bureau deputy director Trouble Kalua.

Meanwhile, DPP Steven Kayuni in an interview on Friday said: “The State duly prosecuted the matter and closed the case. We are cautious of commenting or being seen as litigating in the press as opposed to dealing with issues in the court of law. We shall accordingly respond to the pleadings duly filed.”

The Masambuka case had high-profile individuals, connected with the previous administration, mentioned as suspects during trial. It took the intervention of the then presiding judge to stop the accused from mentioning the names and the media was stopped from publishing the same.

Judge Zione Ntaba, who initially handled the case, recused herself from the matter.

Senior Chief Mkowola of Machinga said he was under pressure from his subjects, who are asking for progress on the case.

“People are coming to my house as early as 6 o’clock in the morning to inquire on the progress of the case. I am tired now of telling them that the case is still in court, because the delay is just unjustifiable,” he said.

Among those arrested in connection with Masambuka’s murder were Roman Catholic priest Father Thomas Muhosha, police officer Chikondi Chileka, the deceased’s brother, Cassim, and Machinga District Hospital clinical officer Lumbani Kamanga.

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