Judge changes mind in Bennett case

bennet_royThe treason trial against MDC official Roy Bennett (Pictured) opened on Monday, and after a few hours High Court Justice Chinembiri Bhunu postponed a ruling on the preliminary legal arguments to Wednesday. But he later told the lawyers that his judgment was ready and would be delivered on Tuesday.

Everyone turned up in court on Tuesday, including lead prosecutor Attorney General Johannes Tomana, defence advocate Beatrice Mtetwa, Bennett and his wife Heather and several MDC Ministers and officials. But the Clerk of Court came out and announced that the ruling was not ready and that it would be delivered on Wednesday, as originally planned. Associated Press Journalist Angus Shaw said the reasons given by the Clerk of Court were that there were final touches being put to the ruling. He said this sparked the rumour mill outside the court house and speculation is rife that the State is going to change the charges because it has realised that its case is extremely weak. But we spoke to the defence team this morning and they have not been informed that there would be any changes to the charges, Shaw said.

The States case depends on the disputed confession of Peter Michael Hitschmann, who served time in jail for possession of weapons, although he is a firearms dealer. Hitschmann was originally accused of plotting the assassination of Robert Mugabe in 2006 but the charge didnt stick. The State is now accusing Bennett of having plotted with Hitschmann to purchase weapons to overthrow the government. But upon his release from jail four months ago Hitschmann said he was tortured in custody and forced to make false confessions. He said he was not prepared to testify for the State. Bennetts defence team is disputing any evidence from Hitschmann while the prosecution says the legal approach by the defence is irregular.

The Prosecution is also accusing the defence lawyers of using derogatory and threatening language in its arguments in defence of Bennett. The AG also argued that he was only provided with the defence outline of the case two days before the trial, instead of three.

However, Mtetwa is opposing the States preliminary application and told the court on Monday that she experienced great difficulty in preparing her case, due to delays by the AG in providing them with the required information and evidence about the States case. A statement by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said: Mtetwa told Justice Bhunu that the inclusion by the AG of Hitschmanns statement in the State summary, without advising the court that this statement was contradicted in the mans trial and recent affidavit, was not only malicious, but constituted unethical conduct and gross abuse of the prosecutorial powers of the AG which should be investigated.

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