By Mashudu Netsianda
A serial killer dubbed the “Underwear Robber” for stealing his victims’ clothes and forcing them to walk naked was yesterday handed a death as well as a life sentence for killing three people and robbing them of their cellphones and money.
Birthwell Sibanda (25) of Pumula South in Bulawayo is already serving a 25-year jail term for 10 counts of armed robbery following his conviction by regional magistrate, Mr Trynos Utahwashe, in February 2015.
Sibanda had also been charged with three counts of rape, but they were dropped after the magistrate ruled that the evidence against him was weak.
During his reign of terror around the city, Sibanda and his accomplices, who are still at large, robbed victims of their cellphones, clothing, including underwear, and then made them walk away stark naked.
Sibanda was initially facing four counts of murder in connection with the deaths of Henry Moyo (21), Mfundisi Makhalima (23), Mthabisi Dube (20) and his girlfriend Lokukhanya Ncube (19) between April and May 2014, one count of attempted murder and another of robbery.
However, the murder charge in connection with the death of Moyo was withdrawn before plea after the State failed to locate one of its key witnesses.
Bulawayo High Court judge Justice Martin Makonese convicted Sibanda of three counts of murder with actual intent, attempted murder and robbery.
He was sentenced to death for robbing and murdering Mthabisi and Lokukhanya Ncube and life imprisonment for killing Makhalima and attempting to kill Makhalima’s friend Cephas Chirongoma during a scuffle.
In his judgment, Justice Makonese ruled that the murders were committed in aggravating circumstances.
“The first two murders were committed in a callous and spine chilling manner. He demonstrated an inherent wickedness by tying legs and hands of both victims before indiscriminately stabbing them in a brutal manner and dumping the two bodies in a drainage trench. What is aggravating is that the murders were committed during the course of robbery and it was a double murder preceded by torture,” said Justice Makonese.
He said those who disregard other people’s lives deserve to be permanently removed from society.
“The court failed to come up with any other appropriate sentence other than capital punishment. Accordingly, the sentence of this court is that you be returned to custody and that the sentence of death executed upon you according to the law,” ruled Justice Makonese.
On being asked why a death penalty should not be imposed on him, Sibanda pleaded for lenience, saying he was of ill health and on medication.
Justice Makonese reminded Sibanda of his automatic right of appeal against both conviction and sentence at the Supreme Court.
Prosecuting, Mr Khumbulani Ndlovu said on April 20, 2014, Mthabisi visited his girlfriend Lokukhanya at her place of residence in Nkulumane 12 suburb. On the same day at around 8PM, Mthabisi decided to leave and Lokukhanya walked him out of the house.
“Lokukhanya accompanied her boyfriend to the bus stop where he intended to board a lift to his home in Rangemore,” said Mr Ndlovu.
The court heard that when Lokukhanya and Mthabisi approached an intersection between Rangemore and Intemba roads, Sibanda, who was in the company of his accomplices, Thabani Lunga and Webster Ndlovu, confronted the two lovers.
“Acting in common purpose, Sibanda and his accomplices accosted the two deceased persons. They removed Mthabisi’s shoe laces and tied his hands and legs. They ordered Lokukhanya to remove her clothes and used them to tie her,” said Mr Ndlovu.
He said the accused person and his accomplices stabbed the two lovers several times all over their bodies before robbing them of Nokia cellphones. They dumped the two bodies in a drainage trench and fled.
The couple’s bodies were found in an advanced state of decomposition in a grass-filled trench at the corner of Intemba and Rangemore roads in Nkulumane 12.
Three weeks later, Sibanda and accomplices spotted Makhalima and his friends Sympathy Siziba and Chirongoma waiting for a lift along Hyde Park Road at around midnight. The accused persons, who were travelling in a Honda Ballade, offered them a lift.
When Siziba got into the car and sat at the back seat, Makhalima tried to pull her out during which he was indiscriminately stabbed by the accused person.
Chirongoma tried to intervene and he was also stabbed on the shoulders before he managed to escape leaving Makhalima at the mercy of his assailants. Chirongoma suffered life threatening injuries and had to be hospitalised at Mpilo Central Hospital for two weeks.
After committing the offence, Sibanda and his accomplices drove off leaving Makhalima lying in a pool of blood. Makhalima’s body was discovered on the following morning.
A report was made leading to the arrest of Sibanda.
Mr Mehluli Dube of Dube, Mguni and Dube Legal Practitioners represented Sibanda. The Chronicle