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Canon Rodney Hunter murdered by persons unknown, court finds: The Church of England Newspaper, Dec 3, 2010 p 7. December 3, 2010

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of the Province of Central Africa, Crime.

Canon Rodney Hunter

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Former USPG missionary the Rev. Canon Rodney Hunter was murdered, the judge in the Malawi vicarage murder trial has concluded.

“There is no dispute that [Canon Hunter] died of a violent death.  It was a result of poisoning and physical manhandling – suffocation (smothering),” Justice Robert Chinagwa stated in his Oct 13 decision.

However, “what is in dispute is the identity of the culprit,” the court declared, acquitting Canon Hunter’s cook, Leonard Mondoma of murder. While there was sufficient probable cause to arrest Mr. Mondoma and his conduct was “suspicious,” there was no direct physical evidence tying him to the murder, the judge ruled.

On Nov 10, 2006, Canon Hunter was found dead in his home in Nkhotakota.  The Malawian press reported that a black substance had been found on the lips of the 72 year old assistant priest of All Saints Cathedral in Lake Malawi, suggesting he had been poisoned.

The subsequent arrest and murder trial of Leonard Mondoma spawned fierce emotions and quickly became enmeshed in the Anglican Communion’s wars over homosexuality.  A former librarian of Pusey House, Canon Hunter came out to Malawi in 1965.  In 2005 he spearheaded opposition to overturn the election of the Rev. Nicholas Henderson as bishop of Lake Malawi, claiming the London vicar was theologically unsound.  Following the challenge the Central African bishop declined to affirm Mr. Henderson’s election, citing his ties to the Modern Churchpersons Union.

Canon Hunter’s nephew, Mark Hunter told the Oct 2007 Forward in Faith his uncle had been murdered.  Mr. Hunter stated “it is salutary to note that, of the three people directly opposing the appointment of Nicholas Henderson as bishop, two are now dead and a third” was “in fear of his life.”

Supporters of Mr Mondoma denounced as a calumny the suggestion the death of Canon Hunter was a political murder.  The website Anglican-Information also attacked press reports of the crime printed in The Times in 2007 as “sensational” and “foolish,” arguing that they would serve only to deny the accused a fair trial.

The subsequent acquittal of Mr. Mondoma was “most surprising,” Mark Hunter told CEN.  Anglican-Information, however, denounced the prosecution as a “disgraceful saga” but noted that “justice has prevailed.”

A review of the judge’s 22-page verdict, however, finds that justice has not yet been done to Canon Hunter.

In his summary of the facts, Justice Chinangwa noted that suspicion fell upon Mr. Mondoma almost immediately.  Canon Hunter became ill after eating a meal prepared by Mr. Mondoma, and died during the night.

When the body was discovered the following morning, the cook was found to be in possession of the key to Canon Hunter’s home and to the victim’s cash box.  The court noted the key to the cash box “was always in the deceased’s custody.  Accused has not explained how he came to be [in] custody of the key.  This again raises suspicion.”

Mr. Mondoma’s behavior upon the discovery of the body was also suspicious, the court noted.  His lack of emotion upon finding the body and comments made upon its discovery the court said “was a strange behavior” which stunned the other witnesses.

Upon being taken for questioning, Mr. Mondoma denied killing Canon Hunter.  However, he  stated he saw Bernard Mlotha, (his co-defendant who died before trial) “administer certain substance on the deceased’s food in the absence of the deceased.”

The prosecution argued Mr. Mondoma had a duty to warn Canon Hunter of what he saw, but Mr. Mondoma’s attorney responded his client “owned no legal duty to the deceased.”

“This argument is quite strange,” the judge said.  “The accused was the one who cooked that food.  Accused claims to have seen one Mlotha administer certain substance on the food.  Surely it is the view of this court that there existed a legal duty on the part of [Mondoma] towards the well being of his master.  Just standing and watch was very ridiculous.”

The court noted that a forensic analysis found evidence of three prescription drugs in Canon Hunter’s body.  Two of the medications had been prescribed by Canon Hunter’s physician, while no record existed for the third, Phenothiazine: a family of drugs most commonly prescribed as a tranquilizer and anti-psychotic medication and marketed under the name of Thorazine.

The autopsy also found petechial hemorrhages in the whites of the eyes, the lungs and heart: a condition consistent with death by asphyxia.

The “state submits that it is this Phenothiazines which was administered in the food by Mlotha in the presence of the accused” in conjunction with asphyxia by smothering that led to Canon Hunter’s death.

However, the court found that no evidence had been submitted showing Mr. Mondoma had access to the drug, nor were “finger prints of accused” found at the crime scene, or any evidence how or when the accused may have smothered a drugged Canon Hunter.  Samples of the meal were not preserved, nor of the deceased’s vomit.

Alternate theories of the crime could be maintained, the court held.  “There are pieces of evidence which raise suspicion” against Mr. Mondoma, but “there are areas of doubt as well.  It is a principle of criminal law that such doubt has to be resolved in favour of accused,” the court wrote, acquitting the defendant of murder.

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