The trial of accused presidential assassination plot leader Michael Peter Hitschmann opened in Mutare, Zimbabwe, Thursday, as state prosecutors introduced new pieces of evidence in the form of additional weapons said to have been found in his home.
Neither of Hitschmann's two lawyers, Trust Mhanda and Eric Matinenga, could be reached. But a source who attended the trial's opening session said prosecutors also introduced around 20 explosive devices to their lineup of evidence and sought to re-categorize as "weapons of war and banditry" hunting rifles first seized in the case.
Defense lawyers were given until Monday to solicit expert advice on the admission of this new evidence. Hitschmann, a hunter by profession, has been in and out of the courts since his arrest in March under Zimbabwe's Public Order and Security Act.
The charges against all of his alleged co-conspirators were dropped after the initial round of arrests. Security officials charged that Hitschmann and others planned to assassinate President Robert Mugabe during a February visit to Mutare. But the conspiracy thesis unraveled, alleged co-conspirators were released and local prosecutors were replaced by a team dispatched from Harare, the capital.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change faction led by MDC founder Morgan Tsvangirai, some of whose senior provincial officials were initially charged, said the conspiracy was a fabrication of the state intended to discredit opponents.
Those arrested at that time included Giles Mutsekwa, the member of parliament for Mutare North and shadow defense secretary of Tsvangirai's MDC faction, the faction's provincial treasurer, Brian James, its Manicaland youth chairman Knowledge Nyamuka and another local member of the Tsvangirai opposition faction, Thando Sibanda.
Mutare lawyer and MDC parliamentary whip Innocent Gonese told reporter Patience Rusere that despite the new evidence, the state is unlikel to obtain a conviction.