Papli's boyfriend acquitted

2009-03-19 00:00

Family and friends of Gail Papli expressed anger and disappointment yesterday as her former boyfriend, Nivesh Doodla (26), left the high court a free man following his acquittal of her murder.

Chants of “killer, killer” were heard in the court after Judge Anton van Zyl and his assessors left the room yesterday after delivering a “not guilty” verdict on Doodla.

Doodla did not immediately move out of the accused’s dock, but stood passively, seemingly worried about the reaction he could expect from the public gallery behind him.

His attorney Sergie Brimiah and advocate Yoga Moodley, SC, said their client’s feeling was one of “relief” that the trial is over and he can move on.

Brimiah later said Doodla also wants to express his sympathy to Papli’s family. “He wished it didn’t happen,” he said.

In his judgment, in which he explained the legal requirements for a conviction of a person on a charge of murder or the alternative charge of culpable homicide — which involves a finding of negligence — Judge van Zyl said that based on the evidence before it, the court accepted that Papli’s death was in fact “a tragic accident” as stated by Doodla.

He said the evidence of the state witnesses — including Papli’s friend Jessica Moodley and the “other woman” in Doodla’s life, Lerusha Govender — were indicative of Papli’s state of mind that night and the fact that her discussion with Doodla about his relationship with Govender had a “profound” and upsetting effect on her.

Judge van Zyl said that in assessing whether or not Doodla was guilty of a crime or blameworthy conduct, the court essentially had only his word to go on. “There were only two people present and one of them is not here,” he said.

The judge said the court had to look at the corroborative evidence that either supported or undermined Doodla’s version.

He said medical evidence was that Papli died of a single penetrating wound, which severed the jugular vein at the base of her neck. She also suffered a scratch to her collar bone.

He said the fatal wound was “unusually shallow”, penetrating only about a centimetre. “Had the knife gone a centimetre to the left or to the right, it would have caused no more than a flesh wound,” he said. However, having perforated the jugular vein, death ensued “within minutes”.

The judge said that based on the facts presented, the court was satisfied the stabbing was not intentional.

Turning to submissions that Doodla ought to have been able to overpower Papli, and remove the knife from her reach, the judge said the issue was “not that simple”.

State advocate Sandesh Sankar had argued that Doodla was much bigger and stronger than Papli, who weighed 45 kg to his 73 kg.

However, the judge said when a person is “in a state of excitement”, or upset as Papli clearly was, a surge of adrenalin could render her capable of physical feats well beyond those she normally would have been capable of.

“One cannot look back at a situation and say a person could have done this or that. One has to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that there were other avenues open to the accused which he should have adopted … and that his failure to do so resulted in blameworthy conduct. That cannot be said in these circumstances. The death of [Papli] was a tragic accident. We find that the state has not established the guilt of the accused,” Van Zyl said.

ingrido@witness.co.za

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