Wife-killer accused cries foul over ‘dodgy’ investigation
George Barkhuizen, who allegedly killed his wife for her insurance, claims the case was influenced by outside forces
George Barkhuizen, who is accused of murdering his wife Odette to claim her life insurance policies, is firing back at the state for what he claims was a compromised investigation, using conjecture to link him to the crime, and misinterpretation of evidence.
These were just some of the claims submitted to the High Court in Johannesburg by Barkhuizen’s lawyer, Sita Kolbe, in her closing arguments on Tuesday.
Just under four years ago, Odette was shot twice near her offices in Moffat View, south of Johannesburg. It was first thought to have been a botched hijacking, but after an investigation by the police and private investigator Paul O’Sullivan, George was named as the prime suspect and arrested.
The state, throughout the past two years of trial at the high court, has alleged that Barkhuizen planned the killing after forging a new will and testament for his wife, taking out a set of life insurance policies worth R7,5m from a number of insurance companies.
The state’s indictment alleged that the pair had been estranged for some time, and shortly before her death Odette told her husband she wanted a divorce.
The state has argued it has had to rely almost exclusively on circumstantial evidence, particularly the testimony of handwriting expert Johannes Hattingh who testified he believed the documents used for the alleged fraud were not authentic.
However, at this week’s proceedings Kolbe spent hours claiming the state had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that her client was guilty of murder and fraud.
Regarding the fraud, the defence has even insisted that because Barkhuizen never received the life insurance payout, he could not be charged with fraud.
Kolbe said the state had failed to prove any prejudice to the complainants – the insurance companies who issued the policies – and had failed to summon representatives from the companies to testify and open themselves up to the defence’s cross-examination. “Who knows what they may have conceded?” she asked the court.
She said the state had failed to provide any proof of any prejudice, or even potential prejudice. Beyond the fraud, she said the state’s case in its entirety had failed to “create a mosaic of facts” that the court would require to give a conviction, instead relying “on a mish-mash of conjecture”.
Kolbe reminded the court that the cellphone records had not put Barkhuizen in the 2km radius of the crime scene, as alleged by the state, but rather between 4km and 5km.
She then insisted that the initial investigating officer, who was later taken off the case, had lied to the courts during Barkhuizen’s initial bail application, preventing him from being given his freedom pending his criminal trial.
Kolbe was particularly critical of O’Sullivan’s involvement in the matter, saying that because he had found the case “interesting”, the probe was tainted from the start, with the assumption that her client was guilty.
Even prior to Tuesday’s proceedings, Barkhuizen has insisted that the theory that he had his wife killed was originally provided to the police investigation team by O’Sullivan. He also claims that the investigator had interfered with key interviews conducted by the police.
During closing arguments on Tuesday, Kolbe was also critical of the state’s assertion that because Barkhuizen had initially lied about where he had been on the day of the crime, that this was evidence he had committed the crime.
“Even if he lied about whereabouts, how is that a substitution for the absence of evidence?” she asked Judge Ramarumo Monama.
However, Monama appeared irritated by Kolbe’s repetition of some of these points, repeatedly interrupting her and asking her to “crystallise the point” she wanted to make.
The trial continues, with judgment expected in July. Because the case is currently part-heard, it needs to continue in the next court recess.