An elderly man charged with two counts of murder had earlier threatened his deceased colleagues, a State witness testified in court yesterday. The witness, who worked at the Namibian Institute of Mining and Technology (NIMT)’s Tsumeb campus with double murder accused Ernst Lichtenstrasser, yesterday testified about a threat the latter allegedly made to the two senior executives of the institute.
According to Gilliam Schoombee, he met Lichtenstrasser at a hardware store in Tsumeb sometime before the murders, and the accused told him that he was very upset about the decision to transfer him to Keetmanshoop.
He further testified that Lichtenstrasser said to him: “They must resign or retire, or if they don’t, they must be taken out with one shot to the stomach and one shot to the head.”
Lichtenstrasser is accused of murdering Eckhardt Mueller, who was the executive director at the time, and his deputy Heinz Heimo Hellwig by gunning them down at the entrance of the NIMT offices at Arandis on 15 April 2019. The State is alleging that Lichtenstrasser ambushed the two deceased at the gate of the NIMT campus, and fired several shots at them while they were sitting in their vehicle.
Schoombee said he was very shocked when he heard Lichtenstrasser speak that way. During cross-examination by legal aid lawyer Albert Titus on behalf of Lichtenstrasser, the witness was questioned on why the phrase ‘one in the stomach and one in the head’ did not appear in his witness statement. The witness repeatedly said that he indeed mentioned it to the officer who took down his statement, but that the officer must have omitted it.
He was also asked about a text message he sent to the investigating officer, in which he said Lichtenstrasser was the murderer shortly after he saw a post on social media about the murder and that the police were looking for someone driving a Nissan pick-up. “I was absolutely sure it was Mr Lichtenstrasser when I saw the post and thought back to our previous discussion,” he stated, when questioned by Titus.
On a statement by the lawyer that Lichtenstrasser claims he was on sick leave the whole of March when the supposed threats were made, the witness replied that he was surprised to see Lichtenstrasser in civilian clothes while it was a workday when they spoke, not disputing the claim.
Lichtenstrasser pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder, two counts of possessing a firearm without a licence, and further charges of possessing ammunition without a licence, defeating or obstructing the course of justice, theft and the unauthorised supply of a firearm and ammunition at the start of his trial. He did not provide a plea explanation, and Titus confirmed the pleas and told the court his client will make use of his constitutionally guaranteed right to remain silent and put the onus on the State to prove each and every allegation against him. It is alleged that before the tragic shooting, Lichtenstrasser was employed at the Tsumeb campus of the institution for a couple of years, which was close to his residence at Otavi, and was unhappy about a decision to transfer him to the Keetmanshoop campus.
However, it is stated, the two deceased were steadfast in their decision about the transfer, despite his remonstrations. Lichtenstrasser remains in police custody.