‘It was survivor guilt’

2016-02-16 11:15
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Pietermaritzburg - “I wasn't really aware that I was pleading guilty to killing my wife.”

This was the startling submission in the Pietermaritzburg high court on Monday by Durban resident Rajiv Sewnarain (48).

Sewnarain is currently serving life imprisonment after pleading guilty to and being convicted of his wife Shanaaz’s murder in Durban on December 22, 2010. This was 12 days after she died in what he had confessed was a staged hijacking arranged by him.

Sewnarain now alleges his mental state was “compromised” when he pleaded guilty to and was sentenced for the murder before regional court magistrate Sharon Marks.

He claims he has a “patchy” memory of his confession and guilty plea in court.

Clinical psychologist Professor Lourens Schlebusch, who was asked to evaluate Sewnarain’s mental state when he pleaded, on Monday confirmed his findings that Sewrnarain was haunted by “survivor’s guilt” at the time, suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, and could have been affected by medication he was taking for depression and pain.

He had undergone surgery five days earlier for an injury sustained in the same incident in which his wife was killed.

Schlebusch said under cross examination by Attie Truter for the state that he had not been asked to determine if Sewnarain “was innocent or guilty”, but to evaluate his mental state at the time of his guilty plea. His conclusions were based on many psychological tests, an interview with Sewnarain (admittedly conducted some 11 months after his plea) and documentation.

He agreed that the information he was given was “limited”, and that if he had been given additional facts he may have “explored further”.

Sewnarain later described to KZN Judge President Achmat Jappie and Judge Daya Pillay what transpired the night his wife was shot dead. They were returning from buying pizza when they stopped at an intersection in Jacobs Road, and a gunman appeared and jumped into the back seat.

The hijacker told Sewnarain where to go, and en route took his wallet, his wife’s bag and their cellphones. Sewnarain said the man ordered him to pull over and stop. He was then ordered to remove his watch, which fell to the floor. “As I picked it up he shot me,” he said. “That’s when my wife began to scream. Next thing I heard was another shot go off … From what I recall now, the guy shot my wife.”

Sewnarain was pulled out of the car and forced into another vehicle. His car, with his wife in it, was left behind.

The hijackers pushed him out of the vehicle “three or four kilometres down the road” when he could not remember his bank card’s PIN number.

Sewnarain said he was first accused of killing his wife by his brother Raj at an attorney’s office on December 20, 2012. Raj had said police suggested he was involved.

Sewnarain said he told his brother he would “take the blame for everything”. “My in-laws didn’t believe me, my brothers had doubt and my whole world just fell apart,” he said. “I loved my wife and I had lost everything,” he said.

However, Sewnarain testified that he continued to deny involvement in his wife’s murder when police interrogated him. He said they assaulted him and Warrant Officer Viresh Panday had told him that he “was having an affair and committed the murder”.

Sewnarain alleged a policeman “inflicted pain” on his injured shoulder and officers had used a rubber tube to strangle him. One suggested they should “shoot him exactly as he shot his wife”, and he heard a shot go off.

“I closed my eyes and felt total darkness. I heard them say, ‘Next time we will kill you’.”

The next thing he recalled was being at the magistrate’s court, where he made a confession.

“I remembered what Panday was telling me to say … He said I must say we were having problems in our marriage and that I hired Boxer to kill my wife,” said Sewnarain.

Two days later he pleaded guilty after consulting with an attorney, Devindran Moodley, and being asked to “sign documents” in an office.

He testified that he could not “really remember what happened” other than that he “pleaded yes”.

He said he was not “really aware” he was pleading guilty to killing his wife, and he was also unaware that he faced life in prison.

The case is continuing.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  murder  |  crime  |  court

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