Judge's death appeared natural - cop

2012-10-09 21:36
Thandi Maqubela (Picture: Sapa)

Thandi Maqubela (Picture: Sapa)

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Cape Town - Western Cape acting judge Patrick Maqubela was initially thought to have died from a heart attack, the Western Cape High Court heard on Tuesday.

Police captain Etienne van Eden told the court an inquest docket was initially opened, as no foul play was suspected.

He was testifying in the trial of Maqubela's widow Thandi Maqubela, and her business partner Vela Mabena, both of whom are charged with his murder. They have pleaded not guilty.

Maqubela also faces charges of fraud and forgery, relating to the judge's will.

Prosecutors Bonnie Curry-Gamwo and Pedro van Wyk allege that the judge was suffocated with a piece of plastic cling-wrap, and that he did not die of a heart attack.

Van Eden told the court that the death was initially thought to have been a natural one, resulting in an inquest investigation.

Had the death been ruled as natural, the docket would have been regarded as finalised, and filed in the police archives.

Van Eden said he had informed Maqubela of her husband's death, and had later taken a sworn statement from her in her husband's apartment.

At the time he took the statement, the widow was regarded as a witness in the inquest investigation, and not as a suspect, he said.

Had she been regarded as a suspect, he would have had to warn her of her right to remain silent, and that whatever she said in the statement could be used as evidence against her in court.

The hearing developed into a trial-within-a trial, in which the court has to determine the admissibility of Maqubela's statement.

If the court rules that Maqubela was considered a suspect at the time she made the statement, it will be ruled inadmissible on the grounds of Van Eden's failure to first warn her of her rights.

Van Eden said a post mortem examination was also held at the mortuary, to confirm the cause of death.

Questioned by defence counsel Marius Broeksma, for Maqubela, Van Eden said: "We sometimes do call out a pathologist if we are not sure whether the death was from natural causes or not."

He said the pathologist was called out in the Maqubela investigation "because this was a high profile inquest".

The pathologist also concluded that the death was from natural causes, and the post mortem examination found no indications of foul play, he said.

The hearing continues on Wednesday.

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