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Panayiotou guilty verdict a victory for justice: Eastern Cape police

Nov 3, 2017
Panayiotou guilty verdict a victory for justice: Eastern Cape police

Police in the Eastern Cape have welcomed the judgement handed down by the Port Elizabeth High Court, which on Thursday found disgraced Port Elizabeth businessman, Christopher Panayiotou, and his two co-accused, Sinethemba Nenembe and Zolani Sibeko, guilty of killing Panayiotou's wife, Jayde, over two years ago.

“The guilty verdict handed down in the Panayiotou murder case today in Port Elizabeth is not only a victory to the family and friends of the victim, but also to the prosecuting and SAPS investigation team. We commend them for a job well done in one of our country’s most talk about murder trial,” said Eastern Cape Provincial Commissioner, Lt Gen Liziwe Ntshinga.

The verdict came after a marathon trial that began in October 2016.

Coincidentally, it was Panayiotou's 31st birthday on Thursday.

“Accused number one - Panayiotou, is found guilty of murder, accused three (Nenembe) is found guilty of robbery with aggravating circumstances and murder, and accused four (Sibeko) is found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder,” said Judge Dayalin Chetty as he gave his ruling. 

Jayde’s family and friends were visibly happy with the judgement and even cheered as Panayiotou was being led out of the courtroom.

In the judgement, that began on Thursday at around 9:30am and almost lasted a whole day, Judge Chetty found that alleged middleman, Luthando Siyoni, was never beaten up by police as he later claimed to the court.

He said that Siyoni's new evidence was fabricated in order to protect Panayiotou and was to be rejected.

Judge Chetty said that Siyoni was a willing participant in the undercover police sting that resulted in a secret video in which Panayiotou implicated himself in the murder of his wife.

From the video, Chetty said that it was clear that Panayiotou knew that the alleged hitman had not acted alone.

He further said the fact Jayde's body was found with her jewellery showed that Panayiotou had intricate knowledge of the alleged hit.

Chetty also discarded testimony from Babalwa Breakfast, Siyoni's girlfriend.

In her police statement, Breakfast implicated Panayiotou and Siyoni, but she later recanted her version, denying the entirety of her statement.

"The attention to detail in Babalwa Breakfast's statement [show] that it was the truth," said Chetty.

The Defence had also sought to argue that the State had illegally obtained its evidence against Panayiotou and co. which was dismissed by the Judge. 

Speaking to the Regional Spokesperson of the National Prosecuting Authority, Tshepo Ndwalaza told RNEWS that they were happy with the judgement.

“We believe we are very satisfied with the judgement today. And we know that the verdict of guilty in this situation makes you feel good as the NPA, and we also believe that this will bring closure to the family of the deceased,” said Tshepo Ndwalaza

“It was just a brilliant judgement. And we believe that it’s going to go a long way to bringing back confidence to the criminal justice system.”

'Planned murder'

Panayiotou and his alleged accomplices, Nenembe and Sibeko, were accused of orchestrating the kidnapping and murder of his wife, Jayde, in April 2015.

The 29-year-old teacher was allegedly abducted outside the couple's Kabega Park home, in Port Elizabeth, while she waited for her lift to Riebeek College Girls High School where she taught. Her body was found in a veld outside KwaNobuhle, Uitenhage, the following day - she had been shot dead.

Sizwezakhe Vumazonke, who is the alleged triggerman in the murder, died in custody after suffering from a short illness at the St Albans Correctional Facility, just outside Port Elizabeth. 

It is alleged that Panayiotou, paid Luthando Siyoli, 31, a bouncer at his nightclub in Algoa Park, R75 000 to hire Vumazonke, 30, for the murder.

Vumazonke, with assistance, bundled Jayde into the boot of her car - to make it look like a hijacking, outside the Panayiotous' Kabega Park home, before driving her to KwaNobuhle, Uitenhage, where he apparently shot her point blank and dumped her body there, where it was later discovered.

While the search for her ensued, images were circulated apparently showing Vumazonke withdrawing money from several ATMs from Jayde's account.

Arrests

Panayiotou was arrested a few days after Jayde's murder following the arrest of alleged middleman, Luthando Siyoni.

Vumazonke was later arrested for the same crime.

Late in October 2015, Nenembe, 28, who is related to Vumazonke, was also linked to the case, after police arrested him for the murder of 72 year old Denise Webber on 20 August 2015 in Kabega Park, Port Elizabeth.

Another suspect, Zolani Sibeko, who previously claimed that his surname was Roxo, also appeared with the other accused in court.

He was arrested in July 2016 in Greenbushes connection with Jayde's murder.

According to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), police used cellphone plotting and placed Sibeko outside the Panayiotou's Stellen Glen complex at the time that Vumazonke and Nenembe allegedly kidnapped Jayde.

Panayiotou and his alleged accomplices have been languishing at the St Albans Prison after the courts twice denied him bail.

He is legally represented by Advocate Terry Price, instructed by Alwyn Griebenow, while Nenembe and Sibeko are legally represented by Peter Dauberman.

Incriminating video

In June this year, a secret video that incriminates Panayiotou in the murder of his wife was ruled as admissable by the Port Elizabeth High Court.

In the recording Panayiotou is seen getting into a car, that he was not aware had been electronically wired with video and audio recording equipment, to meet and talk to alleged middleman and former key State witeness, who has since been declared hostile, Luthando Siyoni.

Siyoni's girlfriend Babalwa Breakfast, was also declared a hostile witness. 

Closing arguments

In its closing arguments [Read the full document HERE] on Thursday last week, the State said that they have "now reached the stage where all the evidence has been placed before Court". 

"The State will argue that the events up to the point of the arrest of accused 1 [Christopher Panayiotou] point to a contract killing. This contract killing consisits of three stages to wit the preparation, execution and cover-up of the killing. It is therefore my submission that the count 3, kidnapping, forms an intergral part of the murder count, as the kidnapping took place in order to execute the contract killing.

"Similarly, it is my submission that count 7, defeating the course of justice, forms an intergral part of the greater plan to avoid detection/ arrest on the contract killing. This will therefore fall under the cover-up stage of the contract killing," State Prosecutor Marious Stander, said.

"It is further my submission that the State could not prove who, between Vumazonke and accused 3 [Nenembe], handled the fire-arm and therefore did not prove counts 5 and 6, the unlawful possession of the fire-arm and ammunition."

The State claims that Panayiotou sought the murder of Jayde after realising he could not afford to keep her and his alleged mistress, Chanelle Coutts, who was a Manager at his OK Grocer in Algoa Park. She took the stand in his defence in October

In its closing arguments, the Defence sought to prove that, at best, the evidence presented by the State in court was flawed and was illegally obtained. 

Panayiotou's lawyer, Advocate Terry Price, told the court that the State’s methods for obtaining evidence were "muddied" and that throughout his entire legal career, this case has been the "dirtiest case I have ever seen brought before the courts".

“My submission is that, from, at the very least, 27 April 2015 to now, every dirty trick imaginable has been pulled on these accused,” said Price.

“It's sad if this court is forced to say you may be guilty, but due to manner in which evidence was obtained, I'm forced to acquit you.”

The Defence advocate for Nenembe and Sibeko, Peter Daubermann, also argued along the same lines.

Read the Defence's Closing Argument HERE.

You can also read the Defence's replies to the State's closing arguments HEREHEREand HERE.