'Murder mom' trial on ice, and all for lack of a bed
KZN's justice system stalls thanks to lack of capacity at hospital where accused's mental health is assessed
“Murder mom” Megan Prins will spend months in a dank cell before she gets her day in court.
Accused of drugging and smothering her seven-year-old son Sloan to death in a guesthouse in June, Prins’s prosecution has been set back by months before it has even started – because of a dire bed shortage in Pietermaritzburg’s Fort Napier Mental Hospital.
Before her case can go anywhere, Prins’s sanity and capacity to stand trial must be tested, requiring a 30-day stay in the facility, the only one of its kind in the province.
Like hundreds of others, Prins has fallen into a long line for one of only 28 beds at Fort Napier – a queue that has a profound knock-on delaying effect on the criminal justice system.Two state prosecutors, who spoke to Times Select on condition of anonymity, said cases stall in their tracks while waiting for the assessments, often to the detriment of justice.
“The average waiting time for a prisoner to undergo their 30-day evaluation is six to nine months and that is the standard. We used to be delayed by DNA but now this seems to be one of the biggest hurdles for us to overcome,” one prosecutor said.
“Everything gets put on ice. We are sitting with one [court matter] where we waited months to get a report and you can’t set it down for trial until you know the mental state of the person.”When Prins first hobbled into the dock in the Durban Magistrate’s Court last month, covered in bandages from an attempt on her own life, Magistrate Mahomed Motala was frank about her immediate future.
“There is a significant demand on this hospital [Fort Napier] and because of that there will be a wait while the state organises your stay there‚” he said to Prins. “For now you will be remanded in custody.
“The state as well as your attorney and myself would very much like to move forward with this‚ but unfortunately we need to join the queue with this. There is a shortage of beds and you need a bed for an entire month‚” he said.
Another city prosecutor echoed this, saying that until a prisoner’s mental capacity was tested, their trial remained in the starting blocks.
“Non-pathological criminal capacity is vitally important because it affects how evidence is presented. If you need to line up expert witnesses you need to know what you’re dealing with and this is a problem we face,” the prosecutor said.“People die sometimes waiting to testify at trial, people move away and people’s memories lapse.”
KZN health department spokesperson Ncumisa Mafunda said the hospital had two psychiatrists on its staff to render care to state patients, some of whom had been admitted permanently while others were awaiting trial.
“The total number of awaiting-trial clients seen per year is estimated at 240. The hospital is experiencing a 5-6 month waiting period for male clients who are awaiting trial, and 1-2 months waiting period for females and adolescents,” she said.
She said Prins was due to be booked into the hospital later in August.
For now, she remains in her cell in the Westville Prison. She will appear in court again on August 13.