By Keiso Mohloboli
The Court Martial yesterday (Friday July 20) terminated service of Staff Sergeant Mpolokeng Moleleki-Letlotlo pending approval by Minister of Defence and National Security Sentje Lebona.
The Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) officer was last week found guilty by the same court for saying the slain former army commander, Lieutenant General Khoantle Motšomotšo, deserved to die
Evidence led in court showed the 39-year old Moleleki-Letlotlo said: “O shoele hantle Motšomotšo,” which statement the court found to be tantamount to rebellion and insubordination.
Lt-Gen Motšomotšo was reportedly fatally shot by his subordinates, the late Brigadier Bulane Sechele and Lieutenant Colonel Tefo Hashatsi, at his Ha Ratjomose Barracks office on September 5, 2017.
After she was convicted last week, the Court Martial reserved sentence for Moleleki-Letlotlo pending a mitigation plea by her lawyer, Advocate Zwelakhe Mda (Kings Counsel).
In a packed court yesterday, with attendants including the staff sergeant’s husband and former social development minister Molahlehi Letlotlo, Adv Mda (KC) said the court should be cautious in its sentencing of his client as that determined her fate.
“This honourable court can recall that the accused was indicted for seven months and was only convicted on July 12, 2018,” Adv Mda KC said.
He submitted the seven-month period had been a tough one for his client “because she has been thinking hard about the conclusion of the case.”
Mda pleaded with the court not to act with anger or revenge when passing the sentence saying the court should be “merciful despite horrible crimes offenders may have committed”.
Adv Mda, however, confessed he was fully aware that in terms of the LDF Code of Conduct, the capital charge of Section 79 of the LDF Act of 1996 was considered one of the serious offences in the army.
But, he pleaded with the court to consider that his client had about 15 years of service as a soldier without committing an offense.
“She joined the LDF in 2003, served the LDF without any blemish until she was found guilty on July 12, 2018. When sentencing her please consider that she is a mother of two minor children; one is 16 years old and a learner at Lesotho High School, the other one is one-year and eight months and ill,” Mda pleaded.
He reiterated his client had waited seven months in distress pending finalisation of the matter.
“She has severely suffered psychological agony because she didn’t know how the sentence will conclude her fate. I therefore plead with this honourable court that this plea should be taken relevant,” he said.
Mda contended the court should consider the fact that his client did not deliberately commit the crime “as she didn’t initiate the conversation that led to her utterance of the statement that landed her into trouble.”
According to Adv Mda, Moleleki-Letlotlo made an unintentional mistake “explained in Sesotho as, o ile a khibela”.
He said the charge against his client was unique because “no one has ever been charged with it”.
He therefore said he was praying for a lenient sentence for the sake of his client’s children.
“If it is not done for her, it should be done for her children,” the lawyer said.
Mda pleaded his client was still young woman who had a lot to deliver for the LDF, particularly in terms of women empowerment in the security sector.
He further pleaded with the court not to take direction of the two-year imprisonment, as provided the relevant section, for his client reasoning the court should remember the Bible story where Jesus implied that all who thought they had not sinned can persecute a woman convicted of adultery.
The court president, Lieutenant Colonel Ramoriting, delivered the sentence following a one-hour adjournment that was meant to give the court a chance to deliberate Adv Mda’s mitigation plea.
“The court took long to deliberate the sentence and seriously considered that she (Moleleki-Letlotlo) is the first to be charged in this manner. The court also handled the sentence in a cautious manner considering that she has children to take care of and that she should be there for them…,” Lt-Col Ramoriting said.
He added: “However, the court found it unsatisfactory for non-commissioned LDF officer of the rank of Staff Sergeant, who is considered part of the management of LDF, to behave the way the accused person did.
“The court, therefore, decided to discharge the accused person with ignominy from the LDF, pending confirmation by the convening authority (the minister). The accused has rights to petition convening authority in 30 days or Appeal to the Court Martial Appeal Court,” Lt Col Ramoriting concluded.
Moleleki– Letlotlo, who seated in the witness box facing direction of her husband and a few other relatives, looked calm and even smiled as the sentence was being passed.
If Minister Lebona endorses the sentence, it means Moleleki-Letlotlo will forfeit her career together with associated benefits.