Explainer: Why the Coligny pair could win on appeal
A trial that has torn a small SA town apart could have been based on false information
The case of two Coligny farmworkers convicted of killing a teenager for stealing sunflowers is set to take an unexpected turn when sentencing is handed down, with lobby group AfriForum stepping into the already racially tense fray.
AfriForum's Kallie Kriel said this week that although the incident was tragic, it believed Pieter Doorewaard and Phillip Schutte were innocent.
“This was a very tragic incident, but what has since come to the fore is that the only eyewitness lied and now he is trying to deny that,” said Kriel.
Afrikaans Sunday newspaper Rapport has revealed it is in possession of a recording in which the main witness in the case, Bonakele Pakisi, confesses to having lied in court in 2018.
A preacher from Mahikeng, Paul Morule, brought the allegations to the fore.
“I was not there when the incident happened. I did not see anything,” Pakisi apparently said in the recording made by Morule.
Morule is employed by Pieter Karsten, who is the uncle of Doorewaard.
Speaking to Sowetan last week, Pakisi disputed these claims.
He said he was shown a firearm and forced to read a prepared statement to “confess” that he had lied in court.
Pakisi said Karsten offered him R3m and a house outside Coligny if he confessed.
What happens now?
AfriForum, which has hired legal heavyweights Barry Roux and Gerrie Nel to represent the accused, said it planned to lodge the appeal once sentencing was handed down.
Once Judge Ronald Hendricks hands down the sentence on March 6, the men will have the option of filing immediately for leave to appeal both the sentence and conviction.
If the presiding judge allows leave to appeal, the case will be escalated, either to a panel of high court judges or the Supreme Court of Appeal.
If Judge Hendricks denies the right to appeal, they can may approach a higher court to ask for the decision to be overturned.
What evidence did the judge rely on to convict the pair?
Judge Hendricks relied on the evidence of the only witness, Pakisi, when he convicted the men in October 2018 of murdering Matlhomola Moshoeu. They were also found guilty of his kidnapping, intimidation, theft and pointing a firearm, following a lengthy trial.
Hendricks said he was satisfied that the testimony of Pakisi was honest, truthful and reliable.
“Think about it: Pakisi must have been very innovative to identify all the places where the incident happened ... This is almost rocket science,” he said.
This was despite the defence arguing at length against Pakisi’s credibility.
Pakisi told the court how he saw Moshoeu being thrown from a moving bakkie on April 20 2017.
What did the pathologists say?
Medical experts appearing for the state and the defence had different versions of how the teenager died.
During the trial, the state’s specialist forensic pathologist Dr Ruweida Moorad found that Moshoeu had died of “blunt force neck trauma”.
Moorad said he was severely injured. His right eye was swollen and he had injuries to the face. These injuries were consistent with a fall or a jump from a moving vehicle.
She concluded that Moshoeu fell from a moving vehicle because he did not use his hands when he landed on the ground to protect his head.
There were no injuries recorded on his palms, Moorad said.
The defence’s medical expert, Sumaya Rajan, who specialises in trauma, concluded that Moshoeu died of aspiration (when blood or fluid enters the lungs and compromises ventilation).
How does that compare with the accused’s version?
The accused claimed the boy jumped from the bakkie.
Schutte testified at the time that he saw dust at the back of the bakkie in the left mirror as they were driving to the police station to hand the teen over for stealing sunflowers.
They turned back and saw the boy was injured. Schutte said none of them had emergency numbers on their phones and asked two passers-by to stay with the boy while they headed to the police station. The passers-by never testified in court.
Schutte testified that they were told by police they could leave after reporting the incident. He said they headed back to their workshop. The judge asked Schutte why they never returned to the scene, and Schutte replied that he wasn’t thinking straight.
Kriel, who is adamant that the two men are innocent, said AfriForum wanted justice to prevail.
He said no one should sit in jail if they are innocent.
“We believe, although this was a very sad incident, that these two men are not guilty of murder and that is why we are going to assist them in their appeal process,” Kriel said.