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Americans opt for silence in murder trial

Two American citizens accused of murdering a young man in Windhoek nearly 12 and a half years ago will not be testifying in their own defence in their trial in the Windhoek High Court.

The lawyers defending United States citizens Marcus Thomas and Kevan Townsend informed judge Christie Liebenberg of this decision yesterday, after Liebenberg dismissed applications in which the two men asked to be found not guilty after the end of the state’s case in their trial.

Defence lawyers Salomon Kanyemba, representing Thomas, and Mbanga Siyomunji, representing Townsend, both told the judge their clients would not be testifying in their own defence and would also not be calling any witnesses to testify in their defence.

Liebenberg dismissed their attempt to be discharged after saying that in his view the prosecution’s evidence before him showed there is a case to which Thomas and Townsend should answer.

Thomas (37) and Townsend (37) are accused of murdering a 25-year-old man, Andre Heckmair, in Windhoek on 7 January 2011.

Heckmair was killed when he was shot in the head while sitting in a car in the Klein Windhoek area of the city.

The state is alleging that Thomas and Townsend travelled from the United States to Namibia in December 2010 to carry out a plan to murder Heckmair, who was a student at a hospitality school in Switzerland and had lived and worked in New York City during 2010.

The two Americans, who were arrested at a guest house in Windhoek on the evening of 7 January 2011, denied guilt on six charges – including counts of murder, possession of a firearm and ammunition without a licence, and importation of firearm barrels into Namibia without a permit – when their trial started before Liebenberg in November 2014.

The state closed its case in the trial in May this year.

In his ruling yesterday, Liebenberg noted that the state’s case against Thomas and Townsend is primarily based on circumstantial evidence, with no direct evidence linking the two men to the murder of Heckmair.

Two firearm barrels and a gun silencer which police investigators found in the two men’s guest house room could also not be linked to the murder, he added.

However, the state’s evidence indicates that the two accused arrived in Namibia together and were in each other’s company until their arrest, Liebenberg recounted.

According to the state’s evidence, Thomas and Townsend were looking for a phone number to contact Heckmair after their arrival in Windhoek, and were also both involved in a search for a 9mm Glock pistol that they wanted to buy on the black market in the city, the judge added.

When they did not manage to find a 9mm Glock pistol, they settled for a 7,65mm pistol that was sold to them on 3 January 2011 in a deal that was clearly illegal, Liebenberg remarked.

That firearm was not found during the police’s investigation of Heckmair’s death.

Liebenberg also noted that a 7,65mm calibre projectile was retrieved from Heckmair’s body after he had been killed. There was no evidence to show from which firearm that bullet had been fired.

Initially during the trial, the two accused denied any knowledge of a cellphone number that had been in contact with Heckmair’s phone and from which the last recorded call to his phone had been made. Later on during the trial, Thomas admitted he had used that phone number and had been in contact with Heckmair, with whom he claimed to have had a lunch appointment on the day Heckmair was killed.

The phone and SIM card used by Thomas were also not found by police investigators.

Liebenberg concluded that there is evidence on which a reasonable court, acting carefully, may convict the two accused on the charges they are facing.

The trial is scheduled to continue on 21 July, with the hearing of the closing arguments of deputy prosecutor general Antonia Verhoef and the two defence lawyers.

Thomas and Townsend are being held in custody.