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Missionary charged with homicide now free to leave Africa’s Lesotho

MASERU, Lesotho (BP)–A Southern Baptist missionary couple charged in a fatal car accident is now free to leave the southern Africa nation of Lesotho.
Gene Phillips, an emeritus Southern Baptist missionary serving a volunteer term in Morija, Lesotho, was charged with culpable homicide in a June 2 traffic accident in which a pedestrian was killed.
In a hearing June 18, a judge in Maseru, the capital city, found Phillips guilty of a lesser charge of negligence and gave him a suspended sentence of a $32 fine or 12 months in jail. The judge freed Phillips and his wife, Jean, to leave the country and return to the United States, which they plan to do after June 28.
The Phillipses were traveling from Morija to Maseru the night of June 2 when a man suddenly walked into the middle of the road. Although Phillips swerved to miss him, the driver’s-side mirror on the car hit the pedestrian.
Phillips stopped his car immediately after the accident, but a hostile crowd quickly gathered and began banging on the vehicle. Realizing they were in danger, the Phillipses drove to a police station to report the accident. They returned to the scene with police only to find that the man had been taken from the road to a hospital. The pedestrian eventually died.
Despite the fact that this was an accident, Phillips was charged with culpable homicide by the magistrate’s office and released on bond. A June 15 trial date was set but the hearing was delayed until June 18.
The incident was the second time in less than six months that tragedy had struck the Phillipses. On Jan. 31, the couple was robbed and kidnapped at gunpoint. The thieves drove the couple into an isolated area in the mountains and repeatedly threatened to kill them. Eventually, the couple was left on the side of the road, alive and unharmed.
The four thieves were caught but recently have been released on bail. Rumors that the recently released kidnappers were boasting about their crime caused the couple to leave their home in Morija and drive to Maseru to seek a more secured area. They were on their way to the capital city when the accident occurred.
The Phillipses, from Woodruff, S.C., and Greensboro, N.C., respectively, were appointed as missionaries to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1956 and served through a period of strife and revolution that resulted in the country’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1980. They retired in 1996 and began the Lesotho assignment in discipleship and leadership training through the International Mission Board’s International Service Corps program in December.

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  • Mark Kelly