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Magistrate blocks Mujuru family request

By Innocent Ruwende

HARARE- The magistrate presiding over the inquest into the death of General Solomon Mujuru says he will only consider the family’s request to bring in a foreign pathologist after the local expert who first examined the remains testifies in court.

Magistrate Mr Walter Chikwanha
Magistrate Mr Walter Chikwanha

The Mujuru family last week asked the court to call in a South African forensic expert to question the local pathologist. The family said should questions arise, it might apply for the exhumation of the remains to enable the South African expert to conduct another examination.

However, in his ruling on the 10th day of the inquest at the Harare Magistrates’ Courts yesterday, magistrate Mr Walter Chikwanha, said it was his prerogative to subpoena witnesses.

“In pursuance of this mandate, I have already subpoenaed all the witnesses who I think are relevant. These witnesses subpoenaed include a pathologist who examined the body at the scene and at One Commando Barracks and is yet to testify,” he said.

He said the Mujuru family lawyer, Mr Thakor Kewada, was seeking a second opinion before the pathologist had given evidence.

“While I would not refuse the calling of other witnesses other than the ones I have subpoenaed, they should add value to the proceedings.  While I will not grant or refuse the application, it is appropriate that we hear the evidence of the pathologist who examined the body,” he said.

The Mujurus family lawyer Thakor Kewada
The Mujurus family lawyer Thakor Kewada

Mr Chikwanha said he will still ask Mr Kewada to proffer the court the reasons why a second pathologist is required. He said the ruling, however, does not bar Mr Kewada from seeking the services of the pathologist or other experts who will ask questions through the bench.

The matter continued with the 37th witness, Mr Bethel Mutandiro, the director of forensic science in the Zimbabwe Republic Police giving evidence. Mr Mutandiro said he was called to inspect the fire scene around 5am on August 16 by Chief Supt Crispen Makedenge.

He said upon arrival with his two subordinates, he interviewed Beatrice Police Officer-in-charge Insp Simon Dube who introduced him to Rosemary Short, the Mujuru family maid. He said he wanted to understand issues relating to the development of the fire and the scene, especially the house.

Mr Mutandiro said he learnt that the house had 17 rooms with seven access doors. He said they noticed that the walls to the house were scorched and the plaster was peeling off. “The trusses were burnt out completely . . . this was confined to the main lounge and the bedroom,” he said.

Asked by Mr Clemence Chimbare from the Attorney-General’s Office why the plaster was peeling off yet the fire was confined to the two rooms, he said that is where the fire was intense. “The first place we examined was the main entrance where we discovered that the electricity distribution box was partially burnt,” he said.

Mr Mutandiro said the control switch was in a tripped position, showing that there was an electrical fault at the time. The expert said they also observed a charred body lying face down, which was burnt beyond recognition.

“The carpet beneath the body exhibited less fire damage compared to other areas. The indication is that the body had prevented the carpet from catching fire. It shows that he (Gen Mujuru) got to that position before fire broke out in that room,” he said.

Mr Mutandiro said glass windows exhibited crazing and were shattered by the high temperatures. Mr Mutandiro said they took partially burnt curtains from some parts of the house, which were produced in court as evidence. He said heavy carbonisation of floor tiles in the mini lounge and the main bedroom showed that fire started from those two locations.

“The body was far away from the place I am referring to as the seat of the fire,” he said. The forensic expert said they retrieved three rifle barrels and two pistols from the eastern wall of the bedroom indicated to as the wardrobe. He said two pistols were also recovered from rubble in the bedroom as well as burnt cartridges.

Mr Mutandiro said they also discovered kitchen keys in the main bedroom near the other bunch of keys. Asked about the cause of the fire by Mr Chimbare, Mr Mutandiro said: “We could not detect or come up with an obvious cause of the fire.”

He added that exhibits were taken to South Africa for advanced analysis by three people, including him, and on the debris collected no accelerants could be detected from the scene. Accelerants are liquids or solids, which enhance a fire. He said no explosive residues were found at the scene.

Mr Mutandiro said the DNA profile of Gen Mujuru’s daughter Kumbirai matched with tissue from the charred body found in the house. There was a probability paternity of 99,9 percent.

Asked why the cause of the fire could not be established, he said because no accelerants were used the degree of fire at the scene by a very big margin could have changed the crime scene. On whether it was a normal fire, he said it was quite difficult to judge.

“The conclusion is sum total of all other investigations, I cannot say what the cause of the fire was. I cannot say whether or not a crime was committed. Investigations do not point out to either direction, but that is acceptable in such cases,” he said.

Asked by Mr Kewada why the DNA tests took a month to be revealed, he said they normally took longer but South African police worked overtime to come up with the results. He also conceded that the results were not yet ready when Gen Mujuru was buried. He, however, said evidence gathered at the scene indicated that it was Gen Mujuru’s body.

“It was reasonable in my conduct to safely conclude that it was Gen Mujuru’s body,” he added.

Asked by Gen Mujuru’s brother Mr Joel Mujuru about the temperature and time the body took to be charred, Mr Mutandiro said he did not know the time the body took to burn but temperatures in the house were high to incinerate any object. He also conceded that it was logical to wait for the DNA tests before the burial was carried out.

Mr Mujuru also asked if he furnished the family with the results saying it would go a long way in suppressing suspicion on the identity of the remains discovered. He said Kumbirai, whose blood was taken for the DNA tests, was also confused on the identity of the remains.

Mr Mutandiro said because of confidentiality associated with forensic science, he could not even divulge information to the investigating officer until science examinations were complete. He said it was also not his prerogative to furnish the family with the results. The matter continues on Thursday.

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