By Mashudu Netsianda
A student teacher from Nkayi who was sentenced to death three years ago for killing his 83-year-old grandmother with an iron bar after setting her hut on fire, had his sentence commuted to 18 years in jail yesterday.
Bhekinkosi Masilela (32) of Mbunde village torched his grandmother’s hut and when she tried to escape he struck her with a metal bar weighing about 2kg on the head, leading to her death.
He committed the crime under the influence of dagga.
Bhekinkosi was in July 2014 convicted of murder by the late Bulawayo High Court judge Justice Andrew Mutema, sitting on circuit in Hwange, and sentenced to death.
Bhekinkosi then launched an appeal at the Supreme Court which set aside Justice Mutema’s judgment.
Then acting Chief Justice Luke Malaba sitting with Justice Antonio Guvava and Acting judge of Appeal Justice Maxwell Takuva in August 2015 remitted the matter to the court a quo to act in accordance with the correct principles of sentences in terms of the provisions of section 48 (2) of the Constitution.
Bulawayo High Court judge Justice Francis Bere, in his judgment yesterday, ruled that there were no aggravating circumstances in the murder, saying Bhekinkosi had no motive when he committed the offence.
“In our view there was no motive in this murder. The trial court did not get to know why you committed the offence. The murder victim was way above 70 years, but that cannot be looked at in isolation. Our unanimous view is that the imposition of a death penalty was inappropriate,” said the judge.
In aggravation, Justice Bere said the deceased Sidandane Masilela died a painful death at the hands of her grandson.
The judge expressed concern over the number of murder cases committed by young people under the influence of drugs and other intoxicating substances.
“The deceased died a very painful death having miraculously escaped from her burning hut. The accused person is now part of statistics of people who commit serious crimes under the influence of dagga. The sanctity of human life must always be emphasised and accordingly you are sentenced to 18 years in jail,” said Justice Bere.
Prosecuting, Mr Whisper Mabaudhi said on October 2, 2013, the deceased retired to bed with her two juvenile grandchildren (names withheld) in her thatched bedroom hut when an unprovoked Bhekinkosi entered her yard and set it on fire.
The court heard that Bhekinkosi proceeded to hide within the yard.
One of the juveniles saw the fire and alerted her grandmother who bolted out of the burning hut to find out what was happening.
Mr Mabaudhi said Linda Mpofu and Methembe Masilela, all cousins to Bhekinkosi, were chatting in the kitchen when they saw the fire and went to the hut to help the deceased escape.
“Bhekinkosi sprung out and struck the deceased once on the head with the metal bar, causing her to fall down and die a few moments later,” he said.
In mitigation, Bhekinkosi through his lawyer, Mr Shepherd Chamunorwa, said he did not intend to murder his ageing grandmother.
He told the court that a powerful evil spirit possessed and overwhelmed him after he smoked dagga, causing him to kill his grandmother before running away from the scene after dropping the murder weapon.
“I was very high and did not intend to do it. I had an argument with my wife, Sakhekile Ngwenya, at around 6PM at a school where she is employed. She called me a dog for not securing employment as a man. Her insults made me smoke mbanje to alleviate the pain I was feeling so I decided to go to my grandmother who I needed to confide in about this problem as I do with all my issues,” said Bhekinkosi.
He said he torched his grandmother’s hut with a match stick and struck her head once with a metal bar he had found lying at the homestead.
Bhekinkosi pleaded for leniency, saying he was married and taking care of his two minor children.The Chronicle