American fires lawyer in murder trial

ONE of the American men accused of murdering a young Namibian in Windhoek four years ago has dumped his defence lawyer.

Murder accused Kevan Donnell Townsend has decided to terminate the mandate of his lawyer, Boris Isaacks, because he feels Isaacks is not taking the conditions under which he is being kept in prison seriously enough, Isaacks informed Judge Christie Liebenberg in the Windhoek High Court yesterday.

Isaacks said according to Townsend he is being kept under inhumane conditions. Townsend is complaining that he is held in isolation for 23 hours a day and let out of “the cage” where he is locked up, for only an hour each day.

“It appears that my client has lost trust in me because of his continued isolation,” Isaacks said, adding that the “continued inhumane treatment” of Townsend was also making his job as defence lawyer impossible.

It was with reluctance that he had to ask the judge to be allowed to withdraw as Townsend’s legal representative, Isaacks said.

He told The Namibian later that he would still be taking civil legal action against the prison authorities on behalf of Townsend, since he felt duty-bound to ask a court to intervene to have his former client detained under better conditions.

The head spokesperson of the Namibian Correctional Service, deputy commissioner Evy January, disputed Townsend’s claims yesterday.

January said no one at the Windhoek Correctional Facility, where Townsend (29) and his compatriot and co-accused, Marcus Kevin Thomas (29), are being detained, is kept locked up in a cage. Thomas and Townsend are being kept in single cells for security reasons, because they are regarded as posing a risk of trying to escape from prison, she said.

Although the prison’s minimum rules state that inmates should be let out of their cells for at least an hour each day, Townsend and Thomas are given a break from their cells for an hour each morning and another hour in the afternoon, she said. She added that they have all the facilities that they need in their cells.

Thomas came close to escaping from the Windhoek Correctional Facility on the morning of 3 November last year – only hours before his and Townsend’s trial was scheduled to start – when he managed to break out of the cell where he was kept and got out of the prison building, before he became entangled on a razor wire fence that he had tried to scale.

Defence lawyer Joshua Kaumbi will be replacing Isaacks as Townsend’s legal representative, Judge Liebenberg was also told during the two accused men’s court appearance yesterday.

With Thomas still waiting to undergo a period of psychiatric observation, during which it should be determined if he is mentally fit to stand trial, his and Townsend’s case has been postponed to 25 March.

Deputy prosecutor general Antonia Verhoef told the judge that Thomas’ period of psychiatric observation is due to start in March.

Thomas and Townsend went on trial on charges of murder, robbery with aggravating circumstances, importation of firearm barrels into Namibia without a permit, possession of a firearm and ammunition without a licence, and defeating or obstructing the course of justice, or attempting to do so, four days after Thomas’ failed escape. They have pleaded not guilty on all of the counts, which are connected to the killing of the 25-year-old Andre Peter Heckmair in Windhoek on 7 January 2011.

Heckmair was killed when he was shot in the head in a cul-de-sac in Klein Windhoek, where the two accused men had allegedly lured him to.

Thomas’ former defence lawyer, Werner van Rensburg, asked Judge Liebenberg to order that his mental health should be investigated by a psychiatrist to determine whether he is fit to stand trial, after Thomas indicated to him that he wanted to plead guilty to the charges on which he had denied guilt five days earlier. Van Rensburg also withdrew from the trial after he had told the judge that Thomas’ indication that he wanted to change his plea made no sense to him.

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