Norwegian and Congolese forensic investigators and the coroners who conducted Tjostolv Moland’s autopsy testified at Joshua French’s murder trial in Congo on Tuesday. His lawyer is hopeful the evidence will see French acquitted of killing his friend in the jail cell they shared last year.
Tom Luka from Norway’s police criminal investigation service Kripos was first to testify before the court in Kinshasa on Tuesday morning. He was one of the officers that investigated the cell, five days after Moland was found dead last August. The cell had been locked until the forensic investigators arrived.
Luka told the court there was no evidence of violence on Moland’s body, reported Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “There was no sign of resistance, and everything was in its natural place in the cell,” he testified. “There was no sign of any blood. It was a small cell, and there was no sign of it being washed or cleaned up before we arrived.” Luka told the court there was nothing suspicious about Moland’s death.
Prosecutor Katenda Nkulu reacted angrily to Luka’s evidence and criticized the Kripos report. “It can’t be used! Luka and his colleagues can not have done a proper job,” he reacted. “When they came to the cell, it was contaminated. That’s why he’s dependent on the coroner.” Judge Derge Kabondo remonstrated Nkulu, saying even if he disagreed with Luka’s evidence, he need not shout at the witness.
Nkulu claimed the Kripos report had an agenda, was not based on substantive findings, and reached no conclusion. “How do you know what French has or has not done just by looking at the cell?” he questioned.
“I can only use common sense and say that I did not find any sign of violence or resistance in the cell,” Luka answered. He said the report’s conclusion was clearly written on the front, and said he couldn’t comment on markings on Moland’s body because that was not part of his investigation.
“These answers make me laugh,” said Nkulu. “As long as the sun has existed, you will not find anyone who has taken his own life in this way.”
Congolese criminal investigators François Nkuna Shindani and Kapinga wa Kapinga told the court it wasn’t possible to confirm that Moland took his own life. They said they found marks on his body which came as a result of being hit. Norwegian prosecutor Arne Stray-Pedersen, who assisted with Moland’s autopsy, disagreed.
Stray-Pedersen showed the court pictures of the cell and bathroom the men shared. He then showed pictures from the autopsy, which formed the basis for the coronial findings he and Congolese counterpart professor Hono Tshombe reached.
“We found no sign of harm to the deceased,” he testified. “The damage to Moland’s body was not inflicted by others. The bruises you can see came after his death.” Stray-Pedersen said Moland would have died early in the morning of Sunday, August 18. Testing revealed a blood alcohol content of 2.7.
He conducted a second round of testing after the Congolese authorities accused French of drugging and murdering Moland, and found traces of a sleeping pill. Stray-Pedersen said the amount was so small it appeared Moland had taken one pill several days beforehand, and not the approximately 20 needed to overdose. He concluded that Moland had not been drugged, and must have taken his own life.
When Tshombe took the stand he reiterated that he and Stray-Pedersen had worked well together, but detailed how the Congolese authorities had reached a different conclusion. “Some of the signs we see here are found both when someone takes their own life and when they are killed,” he said. “I highly doubt Moland died in the bathroom of the cell.” He said the combination of drugs and alcohol would have left Moland defenseless.
French and Moland had been convicted of killing their Congolese driver in May 2009, and sentenced to death in September. Both denied guilt, and a number of appeal cases followed. Following their last appeal in 2010, the men were transferred from Kisangani to a Kinshasa prison. They hoped to be extradited to Norway so did not contest the case further. Moland’s death in August was initially ruled a suicide, before French was charged with his murder in December.