Police officer cleared of escape chargeBy: WERNER MENGES
MORE than eight years after first being accused of having helped two murder suspects stage a daring escape from the Windhoek Magistrate’s Court, a retired Police officer was finally cleared of the charge last week.
Benjamin Manetti (55) was a sergeant in the Namibian Police, stationed at the Windhoek Magistrate’s Court where he was in charge of the holding cells where trial-awaiting prisoners are kept when they have to make an appearance in court, when brothers Chris and Ian Jones escaped out of the cells on June 7 2004.
The two brothers’ escape set off an intense manhunt by the Police. They were recaptured south of Ai-Ais five days later, while heading for Namibia’s southern border on foot along the Fish River. They were finally sentenced to lengthy jail terms for murder, robbery, kidnapping and housebreaking in November 2005.
By then, Manetti’s career as a Police officer had been derailed by the brothers’ escape. He was suspended from his position in the Namibian Police in early 2004, and remained on suspension until he was reinstated more than four years later, in October 2008.
Criminal charges against Manetti in connection with the Joneses’ escape still remained pending, though.
These charges were finally laid to rest in the Windhoek Magistrate’s Court last week, when Manetti was found not guilty by Magistrate Justine Asino after the close of the prosecution’s case against him.
Manetti was charged with a count of corruption and an alternative charge of defeating or obstructing the course of justice.
It was alleged that he had agreed to accept a payment of N$1 000 from Chris Jones to let the two brothers escape.
In the alternative charge, it was alleged that Manetti had left Jones unattended, thus allowing him and his brother to escape.
Manetti denied the allegations from the outset.
The Joneses were already sentenced prisoners when they eventually pleaded guilty in the Windhoek Regional Court to a charge of escaping from lawful custody and other charges connected to the escape and their attempt to flee.
They explained to the court that they had escaped after one of them had managed to open a cell door at the court with a nail clipper.
At the end of March 2009 they were then sentenced to an effective nine and a half years’ imprisonment each, with these jail terms ordered to be served concurrently with the sentences they were already serving.
Defence lawyer Jan Wessels represented Manetti during his trial.