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Ex-cops get increased jail terms on murder charge

The fatal assault that three Windhoek City Police officers carried out on a teenager in April 2013 was “a plainly brutal and cruel attack”, a Supreme Court judge has commented in a judgement in which the three former officers’ sentences on a charge of murder were increased from 10 years’ imprisonment each to 18 years on Friday.

The three ex-officers – Werner Johannes Shetekela, Kleopas Kapalanga and Elia Nakale – carried out an attack on the 17-year-old Mandela Ramakutla over a sustained period during which they foresaw Ramakutla’s death and reconciled themselves to that possibility, appeal judge Dave Smuts said in the Supreme Court’s judgement.

Smuts added it was aggravating that Ramakutla was a 17-year-old youth who was handcuffed and in the three former police officers’ custody when he was assaulted.

The assault “amounted to an egregious abuse of power”, Smuts commented.

The Supreme Court delivered its judgement on an appeal by the state against the sentences that Shetekela (39), Kapalanga (37) and Nakale (42) received at the end of their trial in the Windhoek High Court in July 2020.

The three men were sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment each on a charge of murder, of which four years were suspended, and a concurrent jail term of one year on a count of attempting to obstruct the course of justice, leaving each of them with a sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment.

With Smuts’ judgement, the Supreme Court increased the sentences on the murder charge to 18 years for each of the three former police officers, with no portion of that jail term suspended.

The court ordered that the changed sentences – with which the one-year prison term for attempting to obstruct the course of justice runs concurrently – are backdated to 8 July 2020, which is the date when they were first sentenced in the High Court.

Deputy chief justice Petrus Damaseb and appeal judge Sylvester Mainga agreed with Smuts’ judgement.

Ramakutla died in a Windhoek hospital on 24 April 2013 – eight days after he had been assaulted by the three city police officers, who suspected him of having been involved in theft committed at the Windhoek City Police’s headquarters.

During their trial in the High Court, Shetekela, Kapalanga and Nakale denied that they assaulted Ramakutla and claimed – implausibly, Smuts commented – the injuries that claimed his life had been self-inflicted or happened after they had delivered him to Windhoek Central Police Station to be detained.

They were convicted of murder committed without a direct intention to kill.

In the appeal judgement,Smuts said the trial court should not have regarded the fact that the three men were convicted of murder without a direct intention to kill as a mitigating factor, but should have taken into account all of the circumstances of the crime.

He noted that in the case before the court the fact that three police officers carried out an assault on a 17-year-old youth in their custody was an aggravating feature.

“The trial court failed to accord the aggravating features of the murder perpetrated by the [three former police officers] appropriate weight,” Smuts stated.

He added that “the cumulative impact of the aggravating features of this murder would require the imposition of a long term of imprisonment and of considerably greater duration than the effective 10 years’ imprisonment imposed” by the trial court.

Deputy prosecutor general Cliff Lutibezi represented the state in the appeal and during the three men’s trial.

Defence lawyers Sisa Namandje and Kadhila Amoomo represented Shetekela, Kapalanga and Nakale in the appeal.