Panayiotou murder trial resumes - Trial within a trial in focus
The murder trial against Port Elizabeth businessman, Christopher Panayiotou, and his two co-accused, Sinethemba Nenembe and Zolani Sibeko, kicked off in the Port Elizabeth High Court on Wednesday with Judge Dayalin Chetty presiding.
The trio, along with alleged hitman, Sizwezakhe Vumazonke, who died in custody last year, are accused of planning a fake abduction of Panayiotou’s wife, Jayde, and her subsequent murder in April 2015.
Attending the trial were Panayiotou’s family, including his father and mother, while Jayde’s sister, Toni Inggs, and her mother, Michelle, were also present.
When the trial was postponed in November last year, the court was in the middle of the ‘trial within a trial’, in which a recorded conversation between Panayiotou and alleged middleman, Luthando Siyoni, was called into question.
Defence advocate, Terry Price, argued that Siyoni had been threatened and beaten while in police custody in order to extract the confession, which was later used to implicate Panayiotou – thus, the Defence requested the trial within a trial.
Before the trial, began, it had to be adjourned briefly, as Judge Chetty said he could not see the accused. Afterwards, Price, asked if he could address the court.
He said that they asked the court to make a ruling to have the State provide them with any new statements and have 21 new statements since the beginning of April.
“We have looked through the statements, they are meaningless,” he argued.
“My biggest problem, every one of these witnesses, their statements deal with issues that have been available since the beginning of the trial.
“One of the witnesses' statements was splashed across the front page of the Weekend Post, and he hasn't even appeared before the court.
“We are being ambushed. I have no doubt that, when we come back in June, we will be flooded with even more documentation.”
In his response, State Prosecutor, Marius Stander, said that the witness that Price was referring to, was not part of this investigation.
“It came to light after the newspaper article and was obtained,” he argued.
The State then called Warrant Officer Burnay Kleinveld to the stand. Kleinveld is employed at the Mount Road police station and is in charge of taking photos of people, who pass through the system.
His provided testimony about the photo he took of Siyoni, when he arrived at the station with a swollen eye.
Stander then called to the stand Sergeant Mncedi Gcukumana, who was based in Uitenhage and attached to the anti-hijacking task team at Mount Road Police Station.
Asked about his whereabouts on the 27th of April 2015, Mncedi told the court that he was with his boss, Colonel Mayi, in Alice where they were conducting an investigation.
He said that while they were busy with the investigation, around 4.30, Col. Mayi received a call on his phone and told him that they had to drive back to Port Elizabeth as there was someone, who wanted to see him in connection with a Kabega case.
“We then drove back to PE. On the way, he then phoned another constable,” described Mncedi.
“He then asked the constable to bring the person who wanted to speak to him to New Brighton beach.
‘When we arrived, the constable pointed out the person who wanted to speak to him. Mayi then spoke to him.”
He said that the person offered to show them addresses and they drove their vehicles to the addresses in question.
They later went back to one of those addresses and asked for a man whom Col. Mayi had been told to ask for. But they were told that the man was not there.
They then went to the house where they had been told the man's girlfriend lived and found the man’s girlfriend.
When Col Mayi asked the girlfriend where her boyfriend was, she said he was at Algoa Park at the Infinity Sports Club in Algoa Park.
They then left with the girlfriend and her brother and went to the Infinity Sports Club. While Col. Mayi and other officers went inside, Mncedi remained in the vehicle with the girlfriend.
A while later, they came out with a young man. They then went back and dropped off the girlfriend's brother at home and proceeded to KwaNobuhle, Uitenhage, where they went to the offices of the detectives.
When they got there, Col Mayi took the girlfriend to another office and they remained with the young man.
Col Mayi later returned and said the case was linked to a case in Kabega Park and informed the man of his constitutional rights.
Mncedi said that they later met with the investigating officer at a nearby mall and Col Mayi told the investigating officer about what had transpired. He also told him about money that needed to be recovered from a relative.
They then went to get the money, where Mayi and the investigating officer recovered the money and went to Kabega Park police station where the young man was handed over to the investigating officer.
Mncedi said that the girlfriend was Siyoni’s girlfriend, Babalwa Breakfast, and said she was never threatened. He said that she did not show signs of being legally blind as claimed in court.
He also said that Siyoni was without handcuffs during the whole process from being picked up to the detectives’ offices and was never threatened or harmed. He was only later handcuffed by Colonel Mayi after he was told of his rights and tried to resist arrest.
Mncedi said he was not aware of an injury on Siyoni’s face and denied Babalwa was ever threatened even during the process of recovering the money.
When Price began his questioning, he asked what happened to Mncedi’s pocket book that would have had all the information about Siyoni’s arrest.
Mncedi stated that he had lost it in a motor vehicle accident in November of last year while coming from an investigation in Gauteng. He said he ended up in hospital and has no knowledge of what happened to the book.
He however could not explain why he had failed to book in his pocket book after he was told that it was needed as evidence in court.
Mncedi again denied any knowledge of Siyoni being assaulted by him or in his presence.
He also denied hearing Siyoni making a confession.
He said that Col Mayi had told him that information about the money had come from Babalwa.
However, when they searched Babalwa's house for the money, Mncedi could not recall hearing her give permission for a search - and they had not obtained a warrant for a search.
Mncedi also said he had only heard of Christopher and Siyoni when they met the informer at Brighton beach although court records revealed that Col Mayi had known the names while they were still in Alice.
Mncedi also said he was not part of the group that dropped off Siyoni at Kabega Park and did not see him during the searches for the money.
Once Mncedi was excused, Lt Col Audrey Till was called to the stand. She is investigating officer, Rhynhardt 'Kanna' Swanepoel’s, boss.
Till stated that Siyoni was cooperating and that she was present at interviews at times.
She also stated that he was not handcuffed at the time.
When questioned on the recordings in question, Till said that she was not aware that the interview was being recorded.
She said that had she been present when the foul language was used, she would not have allowed it.
Price questioned why the head of her unit was not aware that interviews were being recorded and found it odd.
The trial will resume on Friday.
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