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Expert suggests Mujuru died before fire

By Charles Laiton and Faith Zaba

HARARE- The director of the Forensic Science Laboratory in the Zimbabwe Republic Police, Bothwell Mutandiro, yesterday suggested the late army commander Retired General Solomon Mujuru could have died before the fire spread into the room where his charred remains were found.

Presiding Officer in the Mujuru Inquest, Provincial Magistrate Walter Chikwanha entering Harare Magistrates Court
Presiding Officer in the Mujuru Inquest, Provincial Magistrate Walter Chikwanha entering Harare Magistrates Court

The police forensic scientist told the court he could not say “whether or not a crime was committed”. “My investigation did not point to either direction, but that is acceptable in such an inferno,” he said.

Mutandiro — who was testifying on the 10th day of the inquest into the death of Mujuru — said the carpet beneath the remains of Vice-President Joice Mujuru’s husband was not as damaged by the fire as areas around it, indicating the body had protected the carpet from the inferno.

“The carpet took the shape of the human body, the head and the bottom section (indicating) the person (Mujuru) could have gotten to that position before the fire got there . . . this physical evidence indicates that the body was lying in that position before the fire progressed,” he said.

Mutandiro said the evidence indicated the fire was concentrated in the main house, particularly the bedroom and the mini-lounge (where the remains were found).

A POLICE detail scraps off the floor flakes of the charred body of Retired General Solomon Mujuru after the removal of his remains from the gutted house.
A POLICE detail scraps off the floor flakes of the charred body of Retired General Solomon Mujuru after the removal of his remains from the gutted house.

The expert also revealed the carpet in the northern part of the room in which Mujuru’s remains were found was completely burnt while the one in the southern part of the room was only partly burnt.

“Charred remains of a curtain were retrieved from the floor along the southern wall of the bedroom,” he said. “The physical evidence on the curtains remains indicated a downward fire progression.” Mujuru’s body was found lying face down on the floor in a north-south position.

Partially burnt window curtains were retrieved from the floor along the north and southern walls of the mini-lounge. But the window glass was completely shattered. Mutandiro said three rifle barrels, two pistol frames, bullet heads and exploded bullet cartridges were retrieved from the main bedroom, while other rifle barrels were recovered from the gun cabinet in the storeroom.

He said there was no physical evidence indicating whether an electric fault occurred before or after the fire. The cause of the fire could not be determined, he said, but ruled out the possibility of such inflammables as matches, candles, Vaseline, furniture cleaner or rat insecticide which were in the house causing the fire.

Mutandiro told the court indications were the fire started at the centre of Mujuru’s bedroom. “In the centre of the bedroom, the tiles showed deep charring caused by intense heat, an indication it could be the seat of fire. This implies the fire could have originated from this point.”

The forensic scientist said there were indications too that another “seat of fire” was in the mini-lounge from where Mujuru’s remains were retrieved.

“As an observation in this case, the fire could have spread from the bedroom to the mini-lounge. The mini-lounge did not have much fuel load as compared to the bedroom,” he said.

Mutandiro said DNA tests were carried out in South Africa and the results confirmed the remains were 99,999% of Mujuru. The results, however, were made available two-and-a-half months after the burial of Mujuru.

“Initially the results were e-mailed to me and finally I collected a hard copy when we went to South Africa to collect other results,” Mutandiro said.

The Mujuru family lawyer, Thakor Kewada, put it to Mutandiro that “the person that was buried may not have been the General given that he was buried on August 20 while the blood samples were collected (from Mujuru’s daughter Kumbirai) on the 24, meaning you did not have the results then”.

The forensic expert responded: “Correct, we did not have the results then. But let me say as far as I am concerned and on behalf of my ministry (Home Affairs), the body that was discovered was believed to be that of the General, given that he got to the farm, entered his house and slept in there.”

Mutandiro said his team had recovered the kitchen keys (which Mujuru had reportedly collected from the maid) in his bedroom.

Meanwhile, magistrate Walter Chikwanha yesterday ruled that the South African forensic pathologist whom the Mujuru family wants to bring could only come after the local pathologist, Gabriel Alvero, finished testifying.

“In terms of Section 6(3) of the Inquest Act, it is the magistrate who has the mandate to identify and subpoena witnesses. In the presence of this mandate, I have already subpoenaed all the witnesses who in my view are relevant witnesses. These include the one (Alvero) who is yet to testify.

“Whilst I will not grant or refuse the application, it is proper to allow the first pathologist to testify. At that stage, if (Mujuru’s family) still wants the independent pathologist to testify, they will have to justify their reasons for doing so.”

The magistrate, however, said the Mujuru family was free to bring any expert (including the forensic pathologist) to assist in asking questions to clarify any issues.

The inquest was adjourned to Thursday. NewsDay