Bennett Trial: Balance Shifts Towards Government's Case
Roy Bennett arrives at court with his lead lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa. His trial has taken a twist now, with the balance of probabilities shifting towards the State as the Attorney-General's strategy becomes clearer. Bennett faces charges related to treason and amassing weapons of war.
Harare, Zimbabwe, 26 November 2009
The latest news on Roy Bennett's trial at the High Court is rather farcical.
The prosecution, led by none other than the Attorney General himself, Johannes Tomana, has now adopted the strategy of discrediting its own star witness, arms dealer Peter Hitschman.
Hitschman signed a statement implicating Roy Bennett in the case of the amassing of weapons of war found at his farm. He was also allegedly recorded on video doing the same thing.
Yesterday, another state witness, Superintendent Arnold Dhliwayo, told the Defence lawyers under cross-examination that Hitschman recounted several statements he made only when he realised that the charges he faced carried a life sentence or a death sentence. He also says that the he was present with others when Hitschman punched in his password into his laptop and downloaded emails implicating Roy Bennett.
"Hitschmann only changed his story after noticing that he was being charged with more serious offences. The charges he was then facing attracted life imprisonment and death sentence," Superintendent Dhliwayo told the court.
It changes the whole ball-game significantly, because the approach of the Defence Team, Bennett's lawyers, has been to discredit the statement from Hitschman implicating Roy Bennett. If the court decides at the end of the trial that Hitschman did indeed recant his statement only after he realised that his life was at stake, then the balance shifts towards the government's case and not Bennett.
The case no longer looks so simple as it did before we heard all this. Back then, we were all sure that Bennett would be acquitted, but this latest development gives reason for pause to think.
Beatrice Mtetwa, for Roy Bennett, is concentrating on discrediting the original statement and the witness, Hitschman. This looked like it was working but that has now changed.
First of all, Mtetwa asked the witness, Superintendent Dhliwayo, why the emails implicating Bennett were not used in Hitschman's trial. Dhliwayo replied that this was because "we had overwhelming evidence against him", something that has now been borne out by the fact that Hitschman was convicted and sent to jail for 40 months.
This means the emails themselves are still in play in the trial of Bennett.
The trial continues today, with yet another witness taking the stand.
All the witnesses lined up by the State so far appear to be law-enforcement agents, except for Hitschman himself. This looked like a bad strategy at the outset, but it is now no longer so clear-cut, as the strategy adopted unfolds.
It would be interesting to finally see and hear the nature of the emails said to implicate Bennett. They now carry much more weight than has previously been thought.
Perhaps this is why Mugabe told Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara that Bennett "will never be acquitted."