Expert under fire in taxi crash case

2012-02-20 22:24
Cape Town - The credibility of a criminologist's report being used to argue in mitigation of sentence for taxi driver Jacob Humphreys was questioned in the Western Cape High Court on Monday.

Judge Robert Henney criticised Claire Wolff for not looking at his December 2011 judgment, in which he found Humphreys guilty of murder and attempted murder, when compiling her pre-sentencing report.

He said as the minibus taxi driver had no memory of the events leading up to the train collision it meant his version had been discounted.

Wolff read out her report and told the court no definite conclusion could be reached as to what may have motivated Humphreys to commit his crimes. As a result, she could only speculate, using theories as well as interviews with the driver and his family, friends, and neighbours.

Henney said: "I came to the conclusion in my judgment that he actually does remember... That's the difficulty I have with your report... I need to be assisted [with your conclusion]. If his version was reasonably or possibly true, I would have acquitted him."

Her credibility was brought into question by State prosecutor Susan Galloway, who pointed out that Wolff completed her qualification with honours in 2011. Galloway told the court this meant Wolff had only been practising for a few months.

She confirmed this was Wolff's first testimony in court and only the second time she had written a pre-sentencing report. At this point, the packed public gallery broke into whispers.

Humphreys sat quietly through the proceedings with his arms folded, often listening with his eyes closed.

Suspended sentence suggested

While taking children to school on August 25 2010 he overtook a row of cars at the Buttskop level crossing in Blackheath, ignored safety signals and drove over the tracks. A train hit the taxi and 10 of the children were killed. Four others were seriously injured.

Wolff's report suggested Humphreys should serve a suspended sentence of five years on condition that he offered monetary compensation for medical expenses and schooling, take part in restorative justice and submit to correctional supervision.

Galloway said the murder and attempted murder of children was a serious offence which had a ripple effect not only on the victims' families, but also on society.

"The train driver and those who waited [at the level crossing] would be affected. And Metrorail has to carry the costs of repairs [to the railway line]. The very community which Mr Humphreys was trying to help would in effect be punished by this crime."

The prosecutor said that in any case, Humphreys would not be able to afford monetary compensation. According to the pre-sentencing report he had little money left after all his expenses. Added to this, it was believed he had sold both his vehicles and one of his properties to pay for his lawyer.

Wolff maintained compensation was possible. She told the judge she believed Humphreys was remorseful, having expressed the desire to meet with the victims' families.

"He has genuine sorrow for what he has done and is accepting responsibility. He's not just sorry for being caught, but also for his actions. I do not believe Mr Humphreys is a danger to society."

Henney said the accused had never acknowledged his guilt, which was a precursor to restorative justice. He added that if he gave a suspended sentence to Humphreys, it would send the message to drivers they could get away anything.

Pre-sentencing proceedings continue on Tuesday.
Read more on:    jacob humphreys  |  cape town  |  schoolbus tragedy

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