A panel of nine Supreme Court judges sitting in Lilongwe has freed former police officer Stewart Lobo who was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment in 2016 for being involved in the July 20, 2011 killings.
The High Court found him guilty in the murder of a builder, George Thekere, who was working on a house in Chilinde during the July 20 2011 nationwide demonstrations which saw 20 people shot and killed by Police.
In her ruling delivered in 2016, Justice Fiona Mwale said it was safe to conclude that the State had proved beyond reasonable doubt that Lobo was indeed responsible for Thekere’s shooting on July 21 2011.
But the Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed the ruling for lack of valid proof, saying the High Court based its ruling on witnesses evidence which fell short of proving beyond doubt that he shot and killed the deceased.
The Supreme Court of Appeal judges panel comprised Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda and judges Rezine Mzikamanda, Edward Twea, Lovemore Chikopa, Duncan Mwaungulu, Anthony Kamanga, Frank Kapanda and Anaclet Chipeta.
Reading the 21-paged ruling, Chikopa said there was a possibility that the person who shot the deceased could have been any other police officer.
He said: “The evidence falls short of proving beyond doubt that the policeman who shot and killed the deceased at Chilinde is the appellant. There is the possibility that the shooter could have been a policeman other than the appellant. The conviction is hereby quashed. The sentence imposed in respect thereof is set aside, the appellant will forthwith be set at liberty unless there are some other limitations against the same.”
There were four known cases of police officers facing murder charges in relation to the July 20 killings, including Ian Kanyama, a son to former Police Inspector General Paul Kanyama who resigned in 2014.
Lawyer representing Lobo during the appeal, Maziko Nyirenda, said he was happy that justice has prevailed in his client’s case as there was no valid evidence.
Human Rights Defenders Coalition chairperson Timothy Mtambo has, however, blamed the State for not being serious with the witnesses it paraded in the first ruling.
“Somehow we have been betrayed by the State on the calibre of witnesses they paraded. We can’t blame the courts for acquitting this case, because courts judgement is based on evidence so if the evidence was weak, what do you expect?” he said.
During her ruling in 2016, Justice Mwale said even though in his defence, witnesses claimed Lobo was not aiming at Thekere, the accused should have known that his shooting would have consequences.
In his testimony, Lobo told the court, then, that he was not at the scene of the crime but he was in a PMF [Police Mobile Force] vehicle where he and fellow officers dispensed tear gas.
But Mwale said State witness Sharon Msowoya, who was a tenant where Thekere was carrying out works, had identified Lobo as the man she saw chasing a boy before he jumped into her fence, aimed and fired his gun.
Other police officers arrested allegedly in connection with the July 20 killings included Lemekezo Mikuti, Benedicto Dzombe, Paul Mussa, Mahomed Kulusinje and Kelvin Nyirenda, all from Ndirande Police Sub-station in Blantyre.