THE long-awaited trial of two Mutasa villagers who allegedly slit open the throats of two seven-year-old cousins and stashed their bodies in a blair toilet at a deserted homestead in a chilling suspected ritual murder case in April 2021 finally kicked off this week at Mutare High Court.
Melisa and Dylan Benza (both seven) from Kanganya Village in Mutasa, were murdered on their way from Mbaza Primary School, about 4km away from their homesteads.
The inseparable cousins were doing Grade One when they were murdered.
Solomon Manyama (Dylan’s maternal uncle) and Passmore Sambaza pleaded not guilty when they appeared before Mutare High Court Judge, Justice Isaac Muzenda.
Principal prosecutor, Mrs Jane-Rose Matsikidze appeared for the State, while Mr Hastings Sithole from the Legal Aid Directorate and Ms Fiona Maroko of Mugadza-Chinzamba and Partners appeared for Manyama and Sambaza respectively.
The State and defence are expected to submit their closing submissions on Monday, and Justice Muzenda is expected to deliver his judgement next Wednesday.
Prosecuting, Mrs Matsikidze said on April 13, Melisa and Dylan were dismissed from school, and along their way home, they met Manyama who invited them to walk with him as they lived in the same village.
The two children never arrived home.
“The accused persons connived and killed the two children in an abandoned home and concealed the bodies in a disused blair toilet. The abandoned homestead is close to Sambaza’s homestead. They attempted to cover the bloodstained grass using Sambaza’s hoe.
“Around 4pm on that same day, Melissa and Dylan were considered missing and a search for them commenced. Manyama told the search party that he had parted ways with the children close to their homesteads. The search continued till it was suspended around 8pm when Manyama indicated over the phone again that he had left the children near Nyagambu River,” said Mrs Matsikidze.
The search resumed the following day and incorporated learners from Mbaza primary and high schools.
About a kilometre from the school, the search party came across a patch of grass which had been weeded and stained withdry blood.
There was a spoor of flattened grass which led to a disused toilet.
The children’s bodies were found in the toilet pit.
When they were retrieved, both of them had a deep cut on the left side of the neck.
A further search led to the discovery of a bloodstained hoe and blood spattered clothes from Sambaza’s homestead.
Post-mortem examinations concluded that the deaths of the two children were a result of severe neck trauma.
Testifying in court, Melissa’s father, Mr Douglas Taurai Benza said when he inspected the bodies of his daughter and Dylan, he noticed that they both had a deep cut on the left side of the neck and no other injuries.
“On April 13, I was working in my garden when Manyama passed by using a road beside the garden. We exchanged greetings and I asked Manyama if he had seen Melissa and Dylan. Manyama told me that he had seen them and left them near the Chiromba homestead. About 20 minutes after Manyama had left, my wife (Ms Lydia Manyama) and mother arrived from a school meeting and confirmed that the children were not yet home.
“We waited in vain, and we decided to spread word that the two children were missing. A search commenced, but it was to no avail. I was present when my wife phoned Manyama to enquire where he had left the children. Manyama told her that he had left them near Nyagambu River. As the search continued, a neighbour, Mr Norbert Chiromba called Manyama again, but he changed his statement and said he had left the children near the road,” said Mr Benza.
Sambaza’s mother, Ms Idah Pandukari said: “On the day in question, I left home to do my laundry at a nearby borehole. My son was at home when I left. Around 2pm, I saw Manyama walking along a footpath which is 30 metres from the borehole. He was being followed by Melissa and Dylan.
“When I returned home, I was surprised to hear Passmore announcing that he was leaving for Nyanga. He was acting strangely. As I went about attending to my chores, I met Dylan’s mother who informed me that the two children had not returned home.
“That same evening, I went to Mrs Patricia Sambaza’s homestead to assist with beer brewing and spent the night there. The next morning, I heard that the two children were still missing.
“On that same day, I heard that the two missing children’s bodies had been found in a disused toilet at an abandoned homestead about 50 metres from my homestead. I later found a bloofstained hoe in my yard. Tests on the blood that confirmed that it was the children’s blood.”
The first person to discover the bodies of the missing children, Mr Leeroy Chiromba, said he was in a team of four that went to check the area around an abandoned Sambaza homestead where there was a small dense bush and tall grasses.
“While searching in the bush, I came across a spoor of flattened grass which I followed up to a disused toilet. Close to that toilet there was a cleared portion where grass had been weeded. I saw blood on the soil and called out my teammates. Together we searched further and saw grass and soil similar to that from the cleared patch.
“We called out and people came with a torch. With the aid of the torch, the children’s bodies were found in the toilet pit,” said Mr Chiromba.
A police officer who attended the scene, Constable Fanuel Kwenda said when he got to the scene where the two cousins’ bodies were recovered, the bodies were laying side-by-side and covered with grass matching the weeded portion.
“When the bodies were brought out from the toilet pit, I observed that both bodies had deep cuts on the left side of the neck. The deceased children were identified by their fathers,” said Constable Kwenda.