American delays murder trial by firing lawyer

ONE of the American men being prosecuted over the killing of a young man in Windhoek eight years ago has brought his repeatedly delayed trial in the High Court to a halt again by dismissing his defence lawyer.

Just after the state’s second witness in the trial had completed giving his testimony before judge Christie Liebenberg on Tuesday, Kevan Donnell Townsend (33) asked to have a word with his defence lawyer, Mbanga Siyomunji, whom he then informed that he no longer wanted Siyomunji to represent him.

Townsend’s move is the latest in a succession of delaying and diversionary tactics that he and his co-accused, Marcus Thomas (33), have been employing since their arrest in January 2011 and the start of their trial in November 2014.

Their tactics have delayed the beginning of their trial, and after its start in November 2014 kept court proceedings stalled while the court dealt with the issue of a supposed brain injury feigned by Thomas in a failed attempt to avoid standing trial altogether, followed by an unsuccessful bid to remove judge Liebenberg from the trial, and the departure and arrival of several defence lawyers while the matter kept on being postponed.

Thomas and Townsend are charged with having murdered the 25-year-old Andre Heckmair on 7 January 2011 by shooting him in the head where he sat in a car in a quiet street in Klein Windhoek. The state is alleging that the two Americans travelled from the United States to Namibia in late December 2010 to carry out a plan to murder Heckmair, who had previously lived in the US.

Thomas and Townsend have denied guilt on charges of murder, robbery with aggravating circumstances, importation of firearm parts into Namibia without a licence, possession of a firearm and ammunition without a licence, and defeating or obstructing the course of justice, or attempting to do so.

Their trial resumed on Monday after judge Liebenberg refused a request from Thomas to again postpone the matter to give him time to try to persuade the Directorate of Legal Aid to again provide him with legal representation. The directorate withdrew his legal aid in July last year, after the fourth lawyer instructed to represent Thomas since the start of his trial withdrew from the trial.

At the start of proceedings on Tuesday, Thomas announced to the judge that he wanted to apply for his recusal from the case, but judge Liebenberg told him he would have to file such an application at the office of the court’s registrar.

Townsend broke the news of Siyomunji’s axing after the testimony of the state’s second witness in the trial, Simon Muliokela, was concluded.

According to Townsend, he decided he no longer wanted to be represented by Siyomunji, who was instructed by the Directorate of Legal Aid, because of “new developments”, which he said referred to the fact that some of the evidence given by Muliokela in court had not been in a witness statement that the police recorded from him.

Townsend said he wanted to get a private lawyer to represent him, and that he would need a couple of months to arrange that.

To give him time to organise his legal representation, judge Liebenberg postponed the trial to 1 April. He also directed that Townsend should appear in court again on 20 March to indicate if he has managed to get a private lawyer to represent him.

Muliokela testified that he was introduced to Thomas and Townsend, who were going by the names ‘Mister M’ and ‘Mr Cash’, in Windhoek on 1 January 2011, and that they were looking for a firearm to buy at that stage.

He said he managed to find a gun for them through a friend of his, and the firearm was sold to them for N$1 000 in an illegal transaction on 3 January 2011.

Muliokela said he again saw the two Americans during the afternoon of 7 January 2011, when they came to his house to pay an outstanding amount for the gun. With that meeting, he said, Thomas told him he had thrown the gun away, and made a remark that he would not want to be found with a gun that had been used, Muliokela recounted.

Thomas and Townsend were arrested in Windhoek during the evening of 7 January 2011. They have been kept in custody since then.

Deputy prosecutor general Antonia Verhoef is representing the state.

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