Man convicted for rape, murder of girlfriend

2013-11-13 22:13

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Pretoria - The mother of pregnant teenager Zanele Khumalo, who was strangled in her bed, collapsed in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on Wednesday.

This happened shortly before her daughter's former boyfriend was convicted of murder and rape.

Busi Khumalo wailed hysterically and had to be helped out of court after collapsing during acting Judge Johan Kruger's judgment.

Kruger found the father of Zanele Khumalo's unborn child, 26-year-old Thato Kutumela, guilty of murdering and raping her at her parents' home in Garsfontein on 21 April 2011.

Kutumela was also found guilty of stealing his former girlfriend's nightclothes and underwear to hide the fact that he had raped her.

He did not testify, but claimed in his plea explanation that they had consensual sex that morning and that she was alive and well when he left.

He initially claimed in the magistrate's court that he was at work all day.

Khumalo's naked body was discovered under a blanket on her bed when her parents arrived home from work.

They rushed her to hospital, but she had already been dead for about six hours by then.

A pathologist testified that the 18-year-old girl's heart had stopped because of intense pressure to her neck. She was five months pregnant at the time of her death.

Turbulent relationship

Kruger said the couple had a turbulent relationship, which included Khumalo suffering a wound on the back of her head and her father barring Kutumela from their house after he apparently assaulted her and took her cellphone.

They had exchanged several long phone calls in the early hours of the morning before her death and she, thereafter, refused to answer three further calls from Kutumela.

It was clear from the evidence that Khumalo went to her house to finish "unfinished business" that morning, but that she refused to open the gate for him.

Several witnesses saw Kutumela at Khumalo's house that day and a neighbour saw him slipping into the kitchen while she was talking to Khumalo.

Kruger said Kutumela had not been invited to the house that morning, but had clearly planned his trip, even phoning a colleague to say that he would be late.

He had tried to cover his tracks by wearing a blue work suit similar to those worn by workers at the complex and falsifying the time of his arrival at work no less than three times.

He also erased all signs of telephone conversations from Khumalo's cellphone and later claimed he was not there at all.

He entered the complex with an empty looking backpack, but left with it bulging.

Findings

Kruger found that no other person than Kutumela had been at Khumalo's house that day and that the only reasonable inference was that he had murdered her, taking her nightclothes with him, which must have shown signs that he had raped her.

He had viciously grabbed Khumalo by the throat and throttled her so that she lost consciousness and offered no resistance when he raped her.

"The scenario is one of a vicious and cold-blooded attack on the deceased, leaving no doubt that he had forced himself on her, raped her and viciously throttled her.

"His is not the conduct of an innocent man visiting his lover.

"From the very outset he attempted to move incognito and cover his tracks.

"His conduct was cunning and designed to mislead. It bears the signs of a planned mission with the intent to kill," Kruger said.

The judge ordered that Kutumela remain in custody until Thursday, when his advocate will oppose the State's request to withdraw his bail.

‘An end to a dark period’

Khumalo's father, Themba Khumalo, who is the chief of media liaison at the water affairs department, told reporters he was relieved that the pain and uncertainty of two-and-a-half years had come to an end.

"We prayed every evening for a conviction. The verdict puts us at the end of a very dark period.

"We know Zanele is no longer feeling the pain she felt that night and that she's at peace with herself.

"She visits us in our dreams to say that she is at peace.

"I feel pity for his [Kutumela's] family because when our children are punished, we feel it.

"It's a case of a man brought up in a proper family, but losing his way," he said.

He warned teenagers to be careful when they chose who to love, and to do research and more research to establish their boyfriends' backgrounds.

Zanele Khumalo's sisters Lindi and Confidence said the court's ruling gave them closure about their fun-loving sister's death.

Lindi said she hoped Kutumela would be "gone forever" and get life imprisonment. Confidence said she had always known in her heart Kutumela was guilty.

"Even though he's in jail his family still have him. My sister would have turned 21 last Sunday and it was sad to have to celebrate her coming of age without her," she said.

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