Panayiotou and co. plead not guilty as Defence rips into State's case
Not guilty! Murder-accused, Christopher Panayiotou, and his alleged accomplices, Sinethemba Nenembe and Zolani Sibeko, on Tuesday pleaded not guilty to the charges of abducting and killing the disgraced Port Elizabeth businessman's wife, Jayde, in April last year.
The men appeared in the Port Elizabeth High Court for the beginning of their trial without alleged hitman, Sizwezakhe Vumazonke, who died at the beginning of September after slipping into a coma at Livingstone Hospital in Port Elizabeth, where he had been admitted after falling ill at St Albans Correctional Facility.
Still, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said that Vumazonke's death will not affect the state's case against Panayiotou and his co-accused.
The trial began with State Prosecutor, Marius Stander, laying out the charges for the trio, which include conspiracy to commit murder, murder, kidnapping, robbery with aggravating circumstances and unlawful possession of firearm and ammunition.
The State slapped Panayiotou with an additional charge of defeating the ends of justice.
Stander told the court that on a count of murder, the men face a possibility of life imprisonment and on an account of robbery with aggravating circumstances, they could each face up to 15 years behind bars.
Cold and brutal murder
The State also revealed chilling details about what happened on the day of Jayde's murder. According to Stander the late Riebeek College Girls’ High School teacher was shot twice through her back and then fell to the ground before alleged hitman, Vumazonke stood over her and shot her in the face as she raised her hands as gunshot residue was found on her left hand.
He told the court that after the murder Vumazonke, visited a sangoma for a “cleansing” before leaving for Cape Town.
That was when alleged middleman, who was also a bouncer at Panayiotou's night club, Luthando Siyoni, went to the businessman's OK Grocer to collect payment.
Defence hits back
Panayiotou's defence, led by Advocate Terry Price, presented his plea statement into the court record, which included a request for a trial within a trial.
According to Advocate Price, Panayiotou's right to a fair trial has been “trashed by the State”, by way of police obtaining evidence “unlawfully” after they allegedly beating a confession out of Siyoni. This is the same confession that was used to implicate Panayiotou while Siyoni turned State witness.
“Siyoni was assaulted and arrested unlawfully, therefore all the evidence given by Siyoni is inadmissible and should not be used by this court,” said Price.
"For two days, he was taken to the Organised Crime Office where police used deceitful tactics to implicate him."
He said that Siyoni had a swollen left eye after his arrest and his assault was confirmed by at least four people.
Price also claimed that Siyoni implicated Panayiotou with the help of Investigating Officer, Kanna Swannapoel, adding that the former bouncer gave two different statements to police.
He told the court that Siyoni was given a 'burner' phone in order to contact his client while police had threatened Siyoni with a lengthy jail term.
The defence also stated that Panayiotou had never spoken to the co-accused prior to the court proceedings. Price indcated that police were desperate to implicate Panayiotou that in the end Siyoni actually made at least 13 attempts to contact Panayiotou.
In his plea statement, Panayiotou denied paying R80 000 to hire a hitman and that the state is struggling in vain to find a motive for killing his wife.
Panayiotou also said he was happily married to Jayde (this is despite evidence of an extra-marital affair with a Manageress at one of his businesses, emerging last year).
Price said that when Panayiotou was arrested in his parents’ home, he was not even read his rights and was told that no attorney would come at that time of night to help him.
He claimed that police had approached Panayiotou's friends and employees and threatened and insulted them.
The trial adjourned after Panayiotou confirmed the plea explanation read out by Price.
Peter Daubermann then told the court that his clients; Nemembe and Sibeko, would give no plea explanations and submissions at the time.
The trial, which is being attended by family members from Panayiotou and from his wife's side, continues.
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