A free woman as judges overturn murder conviction

2017-04-07 15:34
Thenjiwe Griffiths is pictured here with her attorney, Narain Naidoo, shortly after her release from prison.

Thenjiwe Griffiths is pictured here with her attorney, Narain Naidoo, shortly after her release from prison. (Supplied)

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Pietermaritzburg mother Thenjiwe Griffiths (35) left prison a free woman yesterday after a full bench of the high court overturned her conviction and life sentence for the murder of her late husband, Allan Griffiths (60).

The trial court also sentenced her to 15 years’ imprisonment for robbery with aggravating circumstances.

In a written reserved judgment handed down on Thursday Deputy Kwa­Zulu-Natal Judge President, Isaac Madondo, Judge Anton van Zyl and Judge Esther Steyn criticised a number of aspects of the trial that led to Griffiths being convicted and jailed for life by high court Judge Rishi Seegobin on December 10, 2014, and said there had been a “serious failure of justice”.

The judges said the guilty finding was based on hearsay evidence by a number of witnesses (in other words not based on their personal experiences but statements or reports allegedly made to them by the late Allan Griffiths).

Secondly it was based on circumstantial evidence that Thenjiwe Griffiths pointed out her late husband’s body to police (which she disputed), and the court found that she had formed a common purpose with the hijackers to kill him.

They said the trial court criticised her evidence and found her to be a “mendacious and cunning person”.

Though criticisms of her testimony were “legitimate and valid”, the three judges said the prosecution had not succeeded in establishing a prima facie case against Griffiths.

“The state did not tender any direct evidence tending to prove the appellant [Thenjiwe Griffiths] had unlawfully and intentionally robbed and killed the deceased [Allan Griffiths] at all. Nor did it prove that she in any way participated in the commission of the crimes charged,” the judges said.

Allan Griffiths — who was accepted by the trial court to be an alcoholic and was living in Richards Bay at the time he married Griffiths — was found strangled in long grass next to a district road in the Colenso area on January 20, 2006.

This was after his sister, Carolyn Riddle, had reported him missing to police.

The trial judge accepted that Thenjiwe Griffiths had led police to the body, found that she was involved in the murder and rejected her version that she and her late husband had been the victim of a hijacking from which she had managed to escape.

Judge Seegobin found that the only reason Griffiths married her late husband was for money, he was much older than she was and was an alcoholic. The couple were married in community of property entitling her to half his estate.

In convicting Griffiths he took into account evidence by Riddle, who said that two weeks after her late brother married Griffiths he had called her for help.

She said on visiting him in June 2005 she found him “a virtual prisoner” at his home in Richards Bay without money, food or transport.

He reported that Griffiths had gone to Gauteng taking his car, wallet and identity document with her.

Two other women, alleged to be her cousins, were also living in the house.

According to Riddle, she took her brother to buy food for himself and his dogs, and went with him to an attorney (Conradie Marais) from whom he inquired about divorcing Griffiths.

She also went with him to Empangeni to seek a protection order against Griffiths and the other women living in the house.

According to Riddle, she kept in touch with her brother for several weeks until he disappeared. On visiting his house with police they had found blood all over the dining room and lounge and the house cleared of furniture.

She was not able to contact her late brother and when she managed to get hold of Griffiths she allegedly would not let her speak to him.

Judges Madondo, Van Zyl and Steyn found that the trial judge should have excluded this and other hearsay evidence given by Riddle, the attorney, Marais and a domestic worker, Doris Ntinga, which was prejudicial to Thenjiwe Griffiths.

They also ruled that the trial court should have excluded evidence of the alleged “pointing out” of Allan Griffiths’ body by her, as this had followed in the wake of an “inadmissible confession” to non-commissioned police officers.

“In my judgment the misdirection and irregularities detailed above resulted in a serious failure of justice. As a consequence the conviction should not be allowed to stand,” said Judge Madondo in the judgment.

Griffiths thankful for a second chance

“I am so excited I can’t even talk,” Thenjiwe Griffiths told The Witness in a telephonic interview yesterday soon after her release from Westville prison was secured by her attorney, Narain Naidoo (who represented Siva Chetty & Company attorneys at the time of the trial).

“First I can thank God. I worshipped God like crazy. I was fasting for two months at a time. I would like to thank my attorney, Narain Naidoo, and my advocate, Shane Matthews, for everything. But most of all I thank God. He is great,” she said.

Griffiths said there were “lots of things” that were unpleasant about jail, such as being kept away from her family and the food.

She said she has a baby boy to look after, but added that the boy had visited her regularly while she was in prison.

“My mother or my twin sister or other sister would bring him to see me,” she said.

Griffiths said she “can’t tell” just what her future plans are at present, because she was still coming to terms with her release.

“I am coming back to Pietermaritzburg,” she said.

Naidoo said he had felt so strongly about the case that he could not let Griffiths “spend one minute longer in prison” after the judgment and fetched her himself.

Siva Chetty, whose firm represented Griffiths, said from detailed investigations he did well before the trial he was satisfied that Griffiths was “always innocent”.

“However, we were faced with the overwhelming perception that because a 25-year-old attractive black female was married to a 62-year-old white male this marriage was one concluded with the intention to have the deceased killed”.

Chetty said although Griffiths was poor, his team (Naidoo and Matthews) had stood by her throughout.

He said the verdict will allow Gfiffiths to “live her life and seek the compensation to which she is entitled to from the estate of her late husband”.


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