The ritual murder case referred to in the text below is a very old one: over 65 years. The reason why I include it here is two-fold.
First, because it is a case of ritual murder that reveals the ‘social’ motives of the culprits: to protect the interests of the community (village). Historically, ritual murders were human sacrifices meant to safeguard the interests of the family or community.
The second reason is that it clearly illustrates why, for the present blog, I use the method of ‘copy-paste’ of the entire, original article (with explicit mention of the source and author of the article). In the past – for my website on Liberia – I summarized the contents of articles on ritual murders in African countries and added a link to the source. Unfortunately, after a number of years I discovered that links had vanished, expired, got lost in cyberspace causing an irreparable loss. Valuable material for researchers has thus been lost. To avoid this in the future I have decided to reproduce here the original articles that are being published.
For this reason I can only include here the text as published on my Liberia website. However, the text is clear and hopefully it may ever happen that it contributes to more information on this particular murder case. (Webmaster FVDK)
An African headman, Pheelo Smith, desperately needed a human sacrifice to save his villagers’ crops. He chose his father-in-law as the victim, and the whole of the village of Maseru in Basutoland (now Lesotho) turned out to watch the ritual murder. Forty-two people were charged with being implicated in the crime, although 11 were finally charged with murder. Eight of them made a break-out from custody and fought a pitched battle with the police before they were recaptured. All 11 – nine men, who included headman Pheelo Smith, and two women – were hanged on Thursday, August 20th, 1953, at Maseru Prison.
The case reproduced below refers to the trial of Sepeni Popo who in 2006 was found guilty of killing a Molepolole woman, Binki Balotlegi, in what was believed to be a ritual murder. Sepeni Popo was sentenced to death.
I first reported this case – many, many years ago – on my website ‘Liberia: Past & Present of Africa’s oldest Republic‘, notably on the page ‘Ritual killings in other Sub-Saharan countries: Lesotho‘. The case of Sepeni Popo is one of the rare cases still available online. Unfortunately, most links referring to cases of ritual murders reported on these country pages have gone missing over the years, reason why I decided to adopt another approach on the present web site: reproducing literally the articles concerned, but with extensive reference to its origin, giving the original author and publishing house or web site all credits they are entitled to. (Webmaster FVDK).
Published: July 26, 2007 By: Lekopanye Mooketsi
Death row inmate fails to get Court of Appeal reprieve
The fate of death row inmate, Sepeni Popo lies with President Festus Mogae, after he failed to get a reprieve at the Court of Appeal this week. The condemned prisoner can only escape the hangman’s noose if the President exercises his prerogative of mercy to save him. But Mogae, a confessed retributionist, has never pardoned a death row convict.
Popo was sentenced to death last year, by the Lobatse High Court for killing a Molepolole woman, Binki Balotlegi in what was believed to be a ritual murder. He confessed that he was promised P1,000 for the murder. Three other men who were charged with him were later acquitted and discharged of murder.
In his appeal, Popo’s lawyer, Themba Joina argued that the trial judge, Ian Kirby was wrong in failing to recuse himself and that the confession statement by his client was wrongly admitted in court.
He submitted that the judge should have found extenuating circumstances and refrained from passing a death sentence. The defence wanted Kirby to recuse himself from the case because at the time it was registered, he was the Attorney General and as result he might have been an interested party. However, the Court of Appeal ruled that there was no need for Kirby to recuse himself since he did not directly deal with the case when he was Attorney General.
Joina argued that there was no evidence that Popo had been advised of his right to legal representation before the confession statement was taken. He added that the court erred in not ordering a trial within a trial before admitting the confession statement.
Joina submitted that the hand written statement was not produced in court and there was no evidence as to what happened to it. He said the original statement was the only document which could prove to the court what actually transpired when the confession was made.
The Court of Appeal ruled that that it was clear from the evidence that Popo freely and voluntarily made the statement to a judicial officer. The court was of the view that this was a particularly brutal murder and the injuries were horrible.
The court ruled that the murder was deliberately planned for a reward. In dismissing the appeal, the judges said there was no evidence to diminish Popo’s moral culpability.
In his confession statement, Popo said a man asked him and his colleagues to get a baboon without fur. He said when they asked him what he meant, the man said he wanted them to find a woman’s private parts for him. Popo said each of them was promised P1,000 after delivering the goods. He said he later arranged with his accomplices to find out what the man was looking for. He went into detail about how they found their prey.
After a drinking session, they later led a woman to an isolated spot where they brutally attacked her. Popo said after they killed the woman, one of his partners cut off a piece of her private parts.
He said they parted after the job was finished and he went to sleep. Panic struck him the following morning when he realised that his cap was missing. “When I recalled carefully I came to the conclusion that it was left at the crime scene,” he said.
The confession statement narrates what Popo did up to the time when police spoke to him, including washing his clothes to remove blood stains. He told the judicial officer about his unsuccessful attempts to get the promised payment after the mission was accomplished.