American Found to Be ‘Unfit for Trial’

ONE of the two American men accused of murdering a young Namibian in Windhoek near the start of 2011 is not mentally fit to be tried, a state psychiatrist says in a report that was revealed in the Windhoek High Court yesterday.

During a five-week period of psychiatric observation from 10 March to 16 April this year, Marcus Kevin Thomas was found to have difficulties with his memory, his ability to acquire and process knowledge was impaired, and he struggled with abstract reasoning, Dr Ndahambelela Mthoko reported on behalf of a panel that was involved in examining Thomas’ mental state.

The panel concluded that Thomas was “not fit to stand trial” at the time the report on his mental condition was written on 30 April, Dr Mthoko stated.

Deputy prosecutor general Antonia Verhoef, who is representing the state in the trial of Thomas and a fellow American, Kevan Donnell Townsend, told Judge Christie Liebenberg yesterday that the state had a number of problems with the report. Saying that the report was incomplete and difficult to follow, Verhoef asked the judge to issue a subpoena for Dr Mthoko to testify in court in order to explain the report and the findings in it.

Judge Liebenberg acceded to the request and postponed the case to 25 June. He also ordered that Dr Mthoko should be subpoenaed to give evidence in respect of the report on 25 June.

Thomas (29) and Townsend (29) are accused of having murdered 25-year-old Andre Heckmair in Windhoek on 7 January 2011. Heckmair died after he had been shot in the head in a car in a quiet street in Klein Windhoek.

The state is alleging that Thomas and Townsend planned the killing of Heckmair and travelled from the United States of America to Namibia near the end of December 2010 to carry out their plan. They are also accused of having sent a firearm silencer to Namibia from Finland and of having illegally imported two pistol barrels into the country, before they illegally bought a pistol and ammunition in Namibia.

Thomas’ former defence lawyer, Werner van Rensburg, expressed reservations about his client’s mental health after Thomas indicated in November last year that he wanted to admit guilt to the charges on which he and Townsend had gone on trial five days earlier.

Both accused pleaded not guilty to all charges at the start of their trial, which had been delayed by a failed attempt by Thomas to escape from Windhoek Correctional Facility on 3 November last year.

Van Rensburg told the judge that Thomas’ change of heart about his plea did not make sense to him and that Thomas did not appear to comprehend the consequences of pleading guilty.

He also said that according to Thomas he had hit his head and was unconscious for three hours after falling from a height of about one storey during his escape attempt, before he ended up hanging upside down for about two hours from a razor wire fence on which he had embarrassingly become ensnared on the prison grounds.

On a request from Van Rensburg, Thomas was referred to undergo a period of psychiatric observation to determine his mental condition and his fitness to stand trial.

In the report now provided to the court, Dr Mthoko said Thomas had “impairment in cognitive performances” during his time under psychiatric observation.

“He knew who he is, and where he is, but did not know the day or year. He struggled to recall events in his life that took place prior to the crime. He struggled to recall information that was given to him only after a long period of time, after much repetition did he remember something. He did not recognise that he has memory problems. During assessment he kept on repeating ‘I am not stupid, I am smart’.”

Dr Mthoko also reported that Thomas exhibited slowed processing of information, struggled with abstract reasoning, had “noticeable word-finding difficulty”, and had problems following instructions.

Thomas and Townsend should remain in custody until their next court appearance, Judge Liebenberg ordered when he postponed the case to 25 June.

Source : The Namibian