Stephan Pretorius, the man who is accused of pouring petrol over his wife and then setting her on fire in front of their minor daughter, has had his application for bail rejected.
Magistrate Tshepo Mokome said in the Pretoria North Magistrate’s Court on Monday that Pretorius had acted unusually that day.
Pretorius (38) pleaded not guilty to setting his wife, Charlene Pretorius (42), on fire on 27 May this year.
“I would think a reasonable person would be traumatized if they saw someone burning and sustaining injuries in front of them,” Mokome said in the bail ruling.
“The court has difficulty believing his (Pretorius’) version. It was not just any stranger who was on fire, but his wife,” said the magistrate.
Pretorius testified in his bail application that he was on his way to work on the day of the fire incident. When asked why he wanted to go to work – while he saw his wife being rushed to help – he replied “no comment” in court.
Nkhangweleni Mudavhi, the public prosecutor, argued that Pretorius chose to exercise his right to remain silent at that stage because it was his intention to flee the scene. “He knew what he did was wrong,” Mudavhi told the court.
Pretorius apparently got into his car after the incident and deliberately tried to run over Charlene’s family members – who arrived to help her -. The police later confirmed that Pretorius was arrested on the N1 highway near the Sefako Makgatho exit after his car stopped with a flat tyre.
Pretorius insisted he had no reason to flee. He testified that it was Charlene who poured a liquid on him and tried to set him on fire.
He testified that he, Charlene and their minor daughter were in front of his parents’ house in Pretoria North. According to Pretorius, he wanted to talk to Charlene about her intention to divorce.
Charlene apparently assaulted him with a bottle of liquid, after which she caught fire. When asked how this happened, Pretorius answered evasively.
According to him, Charlene was busy smoking a cigarette.
Pretorius’ mother and sister rushed outside after the incident and helped Charlene. Pretorius testified that he saw no reason to help and that he turned around with the thought of going to work.
He pleaded with the court to grant him bail and argued that his parents, sister and daughter are financially dependent on him.
Pretorius also informed the court on Monday that he had previously undergone three operations because he has cancer. According to Pretorius, he is not sure if the cancer has returned because, since he has been in detention, he has not been able to go for his regular scans.
Pretorius also said that he is already not receiving the correct treatment for his asthma in prison and therefore could become a “ticking time bomb” as long as he cannot get certainty about his cancer status.
Mokome told Pretorius that cancer is an extraordinary reason for someone to be released on bail.
“But why come forward with the information now? He had many opportunities to request his medical file to convince the court of his medical condition. He also had the opportunity to inform the court earlier when he abandoned his bail application in June,” says Mokome.
“The court agrees with the defense that cancer is an extraordinary reason, but until he is seen by his doctor, it remains a matter of uncertainty whether the cancer has returned or not.”
The onus rested on Pretorius, who is on trial for murder, to prove extraordinary circumstances as a reason to be released on bail.
Mokome said in his judgment that although cancer is such an extraordinary situation, he also weighed other factors.
One of these was that Pretorius did not heed a temporary protection order that Charlene obtained against him. Evidence was given in court about the order that Charlene obtained on 8 February this year after she and Pretorius got involved in a heated argument the night before. The police had to intervene and remove Charlene from the house after Pretorius apparently threatened to shoot her.
Pretorius denied this version.
For Mokome, it was cause for concern that Pretorius was later arrested because he did not comply with the order’s instructions. The magistrate told the state that, should Pretorius be released on bail, there is no guarantee that he will comply with any conditions that the court may lay down.
Mokome also referred to evidence of death threats that Pretorius allegedly made towards Charlene’s children and family. Some of these threats were apparently made from prison.
Pretorius denies this and insisted he would strictly adhere to any bail conditions. He also undertook to live in Germiston with his aunt, far away from any witnesses.
Mokome was not convinced and found that there were questions in the case that only Pretorius could answer.
“It is therefore, after consideration of the applicant’s extraordinary and personal circumstances and the case as a whole, that it is not in the interest of justice to release him on bail.”
Pretorius’ case was adjourned until next year to give the state a chance to complete the final investigative work.