Americans Complain About Prison Conditions

THE two American citizens accused of murdering a young man in Windhoek four years ago regard the conditions in which they are being detained in prison as inhumane.

Defence lawyers Boris Isaacks and Monty Karuaihe charged in the Windhoek High Court yesterday that their clients, Kevan Donnell Townsend and Marcus Kevin Thomas, are being subjected to inhumane treatment since they have been detained in solitary confinement for the past eight months.

Isaacks told Judge Christie Liebenberg that according to Townsend he is being kept in solitary confinement and locked up in a cage like an animal for 23 hours a day.

Townsend and Thomas were placed in isolation in Windhoek Correctional Facility about seven or eight months ago, and the prison authorities’ explanation for that step was that the two men were under investigation in connection with a possible attempt to escape from prison, Isaacks said.

The prison authorities’ suspicions were confirmed on the morning of 3 November last year, when Thomas managed to break out of the cell where he was kept and got out of the prison building. However, his bid to regain his freedom came to a painful and embarrassing end when his right foot got entangled on a razor wire fence at the prison, leaving Thomas hanging helplessly upside down for a couple of hours until municipal emergency workers managed to free him from the fence.

Isaacks asked Judge Liebenberg to intervene on humanitarian grounds in the detention of the two men.

A criminal court where the Ministry of Safety and Security, the ministry responsible for the detention of the accused, is not represented, is not the forum where such a request should be dealt with, deputy prosecutor general Antonia Verhoef responded to Isaacks’ address to the court.

Judge Liebenberg agreed with her view. He said it was his opinion that the ministry should be given an opportunity to respond to the allegations being made by the two accused before a court order about their detention could be given.

Verhoef also informed the judge that Thomas cannot be accommodated at a psychiatric unit for a period of psychiatric observation before March.

Thomas’ former defence lawyer, Werner van Rensburg, asked Judge Liebenberg to order that Thomas’ mental health should be investigated by a psychiatrist to determine if he is mentally 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.

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, in November last year, when they pleaded not guilty on all of the counts.

All the charges are connected to the killing of 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.

After the start of the trial was delayed as a result of Thomas’ escape attempt, the trial came to a quick halt again when Thomas’ defence lawyer told Judge Liebenberg that he had doubts about his client’s mental condition.

The two accused must make their next court appearance on 25 February.

Their trial is due to continue from 20 July.

Source : The Namibian