A fire which gutted a Gobabis district farming couple’s house and incinerated the couple’s bodies in January 2018 was started deliberately, a forensic scientist has testified in the Windhoek High Court.
Forensic scientist Kalipus Sem, who is employed at the Namibian Police Forensic Science Institute, testified before judge Naomi Shivute on Friday that he observed “unusual burn patterns” on the walls of the kitchen and two bedrooms of the house on the farm Grunfeld, situated south-east of Gobabis, when he visited the farm after the house had been destroyed by fire during the night of 20 January 2018.
Those burn patterns were an indication that the fire had been started with liquid fuel in several places in the house, Sem said.
After the fire, the completely burnt remains of farming couple Armin (68) and Brunhild Riedel (66) were found in two of the bedrooms of the farmhouse.
The state is alleging that the couple were murdered before their house was set alight.
Farmworkers Bernadus Afrikaner (36) and Salathuel Unaeb (47), who were employed by the couple, are standing trial on 11 charges in connection with the Riedels’ deaths.
The charges against the two men include two counts of murder, charges of robbery with aggravating circumstances, arson and the unlawful possession of a firearm and ammunition, and two counts of rape.
Afrikaner and Unaeb denied guilt on all charges at the start of their trial in December last year.
In his testimony on Friday, Sem said with his investigation of the scene he did not find evidence that electrical faults could have been the cause of the fire.
The presence of unusual burn patterns on a kitchen wall and the walls of the two bedrooms where the couple’s burnt remains were found showed that the fire probably originated in those places, Sem said.
He also stated in a report provided to the court: “Evidence exists that the fire was intentionally started (multiple seats of fire and unusual burn patterns).”
During trial proceedings over the past two weeks, the court has also heard that Afrikaner made admissions about his involvement in the killing of the couple and the burning of their house after his arrest.
One of the state’s witnesses, Lorreta Hoases, testified that she knew Afrikaner since childhood, as they are related and both grew up at Witvlei.
She said she visited Afrikaner at the police holding cells at Gobabis, where he was in custody, in June 2018, and during that visit he told her he had attacked “the old woman” at the farm where he was working by grabbing her in her kitchen, before he demanded money from her.
Hoases said according to Afrikaner “the old woman” told him she did not have money in the house, but he did not believe her.
He also said he forced her into a bedroom where he raped her, and that he also forced a fellow farmworker, named ‘Salat’, at gunpoint to rape her, Hoases recounted.
She continued that Afrikaner told her they grabbed “the old man” when he came into the house and demanded money from him, too, but he also said he did not have money at the farm.
They ended up shooting “the old man” and then removed items from the house, Hoases said Afrikaner told her.
They returned to the house after they had hidden the items they had taken, and they then poured diesel in the house and set it on fire, Afrikaner also told her, Hoases said.
Afrikaner’s instructions on this testimony was that he and Hoases are not related, did not grow up together, and that the conversation she testified about never took place, defence lawyer Melissa Windisch told Hoases.
Afrikaner’s instructions are lies, Hoases said in response.
A sister of Unaeb, Tselane Oemses, has also testified.
She related that when she had a telephonic conversation with Unaeb after his arrest, he told her he did not kill anybody, but had been involved with the crimes for which he was arrested.
The trial is scheduled to continue from 27 May.
Both accused are being held in custody.
State advocate Ethel Ndlovu is prosecuting.
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