‘Murder was not my plan’

2009-11-19 00:00

JOHANNESBURG — Donovan Moodley couldn’t set Leigh Matthews free, as he claims he planned to do, “since he couldn’t have foreseen the media attention and how the media would ‘blow the case out of proportion’”.

Although Moodley only planned on kidnapping, extortion and setting her free, he then had no choice but to murder her, his lawyer, Charles Thompson, said yesterday during his application for leave to appeal against his life sentence.

It was also the media’s fault that Judge Joop Labuschagne imposed that sentence, Thompson maintained.

“With the amount of media coverage regarding the case … it was impossible for … Labuschagne to remain immune against the popular public opinion.

“… Labuschagne put undue emphasis on the obvious fury of the community … and thus also on this aspect’s influence on the sentencing process …”

Moodley was found guilty in 2005 of the 2004 murder of Matthews, after pleading guilty. Moodley alleges Labuschagne imposed a sentence that was “shockingly inappropriate” because, among other reasons, the murder “was not premeditated”.

According to Moodley, Labuschagne should easily have been able to notice this at the time, based on “contradictions” in his plea agreement.

When Moodley was in court yesterday, it was precisely four years since he’d been in the high court in Johannesburg to apply for leave to appeal.

He then withdrew this application, and announced that he would apply for a retrial, which never happened.

Thompson read extracts from Moodley’s initial plea agreement to the court, including one particular sentence which reads: “I did not shoot her on the spur of the moment, but decided and planned to kill her …”

According to Moodley, this sentence is in contradiction to the rest of the plea bargain, which, in its entirety, indicated that “the decision to murder Matthews was only made toward the end of the ‘unsavoury affair’”.

Moodley says he never told his lawyers that he planned to murder Matthews.

“It was … that the murder took place when I realised that, if I’d let the deceased go free, I would have been caught or identified.”

Moodley says that, when his plea agreement was read in court, he did not understand the implication of that particular sentence.

The judge could and should have cleared up this aspect by means of questioning during the trial, said Thompson, “because is it Moodley who is admitting here that the murder was premeditated, or is it merely a legal conclusion which is being made?”

Advocate Zaais van Zyl SC, for the state, said: “That Matthews’s family and friends have to be in court yet again and go through even more trauma, is not fair.”

While he was presenting the more detailed aspects of the murder in Moodley’s plea agreement to the court, Leigh’s mother Sharon’s eyes filled with tears.

“It is a meticulous statement … in simple English … with no contradictions or ambiguities …” said Van Zyl.

“Moodley couldn’t have had a misunderstanding with regard to what it meant.

“We are stating that it is clear that the murder was premeditated …”

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