Daniel Nemukuyu Investigations and Special Reports Editor
A jurisprudential test is staring Zimbabwe’s justice system over a murder suspect who turned deaf in remand prison.
Kevin Pato (32) lost his sense of hearing by 100 percent, which has been medically ascertained, bringing his murder trial to a halt.
Pato cannot hear, but can speak.
He can also read notes and, in turn, respond verbally.
However, legal experts said communication through writing notes was not possible in a court of law, complicating his chances of standing trial.
Pato reportedly committed murder in the course of a robbery.
The offence attracts the death penalty if he is found guilty.
Relatives of the deceased are exerting pressure on the prosecution to kick-start the trial, but efforts to commence the trial have failed as the State is clueless on the proper method of communication to be used in court.
Ear specialists have confirmed the disability, with the latest report having been compiled by an audiologist, Mr Tendai Nhokwara, who concluded the suspect had a profound hearing loss in both ears.
Mutare area public prosecutor Mr Jonathan Chingwinyiso, in one of his reports, said he was facing challenges in proceeding with the case.
“Discussions with sign language interpreters concluded that a person who loses his sense of hearing cannot automatically understand sign language without having been taught sign language.
“We are now at a loss as at how to proceed,” said Mr Chingwinyiso.
National Director of Public Prosecution Mr Nelson Mutsonziwa told The Herald that Pato was facing a serious offence and the State will find a way to ensure trial commences.
He suggested training Pato in sign language to enable him to face trial.
“The accused should be trained in using sign language to ensure trial commences.
“He stands accused of a very serious offence and we cannot decline prosecution in the public interest.
“If it was some petty offences, one would have considered setting him free but the offence he faces attracts the death penalty.
“The only way forward is to train him to use sign language,” said Mr Mutsonziwa.
The Herald caught up with Pato at Chikurubi Maximum Prison (D-class section) where he complained of the inordinate delay in the commencement of his trial.
“I am facing serious communication problems here in prison. I feel I should at least be released on bail.
“I can talk but I cannot hear what people say. Whenever I need something, I just say it out and I will get it but if people want to say something to me, I do not hear unless they write down, like you are doing now,” he said.
Pato said he had been to court on several occasions both in Mutare and Harare but the trial has failed to take off.
Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Service (ZPCS) officer-in-charge at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison Assistant Commissioner George Mutimbanyoka said his officers communicated with Pato through general sign language and writing.
“We communicate with him through writing and ordinary signs. We do not have a big problem having him around,” said Asst Comm Mutimbanyoka.
Pato is married with two children aged 11 and seven years.