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."


  1. Denford, you are seeing here the same trick that is used when counting the ballots. Let the opposition lead (in this case present the useless state witnesses first) and then when they think they have it in the bag, bring out the star witnesses. If Matibhiri said Bennett will not escape, you can be assured he knows something and I am sure MDC-T knows it too.

  2. I think despite all the politics that we can shout we must agree to the authority of the rule where it is warranted. It is becoming difficult to see how Bennett can be completely innocent in all this. What we had branded "trumped up charges" my actually be well founded.
    Let's weigh this case on it's merits and accept that to a large extent, justice is being allowed to take it's course.

    What I fear is that it is also difficult to convict Bennett mainly because of political reasons. However this makes life easy for "The solution". He nows has a bargaining chip to tackle Tsvangirai. He will not swear in Bennett no doubt.
    He might ask for concessions in order to let Bennett go free. Tsvangirai cannot let Bennett get a conviction because MDC-T funding largely comes through Bennett even in the presence of Biti. He will concede if the worst comes to the worst.
    I think this is one of the reasons why Mugabe is not interested in the current talks, he is on the losing end but if he gets such a big bargaining chip, I can assure you that will be the end of "all outstanding issues".

  3. Anything is possible in law and politics. Who thought Blessing Chebundo could be acquited on a case that looked clear cut on the face of it. The girl allegedly raped is there and pregnant, leter delivered, she is under age. What will happen should it be proved through DNA that indeed the baby is Blessing Chebundo's. I think even our girl child pressure groups let this young girl down.Very much surprising the girl delivered before the Close of the state case, surely an application to have such evidence accepted in the trial should have been perculiar. Although our law seem not to allow that, since it will appear as carrying out investigation and prosecuting at the same time, whereas investigation should end at the time prosecution commences.An application on the basis of new evidence that was not available at the time of trial should seriously be considered on such a heinous crime.There should be no double jeopardy there,.

  4. @Abel, I am certain that Mugabe is certain that Bennett will not escape. We know what that means. Any judge who dares second-guess "The Solution" will have a torrid time of it. There will be an appeal, a new judge will be handpicked and Bennett's acquittal reversed.

    @Don, you are right, it is a case of doomed if he does and doomed if he does not. Whichever way the judge goes, charges of bias are going to be levelled against him, either by the State or by the Defence.

    There is no way this thing is not going to appeal. No way.

    @Thokozile: Welcome back, where have you been?? We missed you here.

    You actually raise an important point, which is that, right now, no one can say which way it will go.

    This is actually the best reflection of justice truly being served. Think of it as you being on a jury in this case. Right now, you would be undecided and looking to the evidence being brought before you to make up your mind whether the charges stick or not.

    You did not go in there with preconceived notions.

    (I hope we hear from you more :)


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