By JAMES GUMUNO
A COURT has set free the 14 men charged with the torching of an aircraft, a home, the courthouse and other properties in Mendi town last June because of insufficient evidence.
Mt Hagen District Court Magistrate Betty Jacob dismissed the charges on Friday saying there was not enough evidence to commit the 14 to trial in the National Court.
Magistrate Jacob said police had failed in their duty by, for example, not conducting an identification parade to pick out the offenders.
She also said police in Mendi did not help detectives from outside town to properly investigate the matter.
The 14 faced 11 charges in relation to the burning down of an Air Niugini Dash-8 plane at the airport, plus the home of Southern Highland Governor William Powi, the district and national court house, and other properties in Mendi, Southern Highlands.
They each faced eight counts of arson, one count each of riot, trespassing, plus threatening and assaulting an aircraft staff.
The 14 are Andy Fidelis, Wer Nathan Kekapu, Kombap Wari, Samuel Kowi, Paiki Kap, Ricky Moses, Mathias Posu, Marso Malex, Willie Waipo, Peter Wendo, Paul Kep, Solo Posu, Alexander Kaka and Richard Karl. The other properties torched included a primary industry building, a tractor, a container and a tool shed.
The incident happened on June 14 after a decision on the election petition filed by a candidate for the Southern Highlands provincial seat was dismissed by the Court of Disputed Returns in Waigani, Port Moresby.
The prosecution had called 74 witnesses including two alleged accomplices. Magistrate Jacob upheld the submission filed by defence lawyer Mathew Tamutai and discharged the matter.
Tamutai had submitted that what the State witnesses had talked about happened before and after the incident, and not one of them had seen the 14 actually committing the alleged offences.
Meanwhile, Tamutai said outside the court that no matter what people thought, the court had made its decision based on the arguments presented by the prosecution and defence. He said he believed in the principle of upholding the law and doing his job as an advocate.
By JAMES GUMUNO