Court: Murison murderer gets 30 years

2008-04-17 00:00

Supporters of slain Wembley mother Michelle Murison (31) said yesterday their faith in the South African justice system was restored when Judge Shyam Gyanda sentenced her killer, Martin Zondi (26), to an effective 30 years’ imprisonment despite his plea of guilty.

Kevin Liddell, Murison’s partner of 10 years and the father of their 14-month-old baby daughter, told The Witness that he and other friends and relatives feared that Zondi might get a reduced sentence if he pleaded guilty and succeeded in downplaying the enormity of his actions.

“This now is one small step on the road to our recovery, and it has put more faith in our justice system.”

A friend who travelled from Johannesburg for the sentencing, John Lourens, echoed his words and said he and others were impressed that the judge “was not fooled at any time” and that he imposed a severe but just sentence. Many in the crowded gallery wiped away tears as sentence was passed.

Judge Gyanda commented that if he imposed a sentence that the community regarded as a mere slap on the wrist, the administration of justice would fall into disrepute. He said serious offences must be visited with heavy sentences, but in Zondi’s case, should also cater for the fact that he could be rehabilitated.

Judge Gyanda also said he was not convinced that Zondi’s remorse was genuine and believes he pleaded guilty because he realised there was no way out as “the finding of a bloody fingerprint” in the house was pointing the finger at him.

Judge Gyanda sentenced Zondi to 25 years’ imprisonment for murdering Murison and to five years’ for theft of her car. He ordered that Zondi cannot be released on parole until he has served 20 years.

The judge said that despite Zondi’s guilty plea, the court remained in the dark as to what really motivated him to kill Murison in the way he did. He was given the opportunity to explain what would have prompted her to slap him, as Zondi alleges she did.

“Nothing you said indicates the reason the deceased would have regarded your conduct as an affront to her dignity, entitling her to slap you,” he said.

He agreed with state advocate Sandesh Sankar that photographs of the scene and the “condition of cupboards and drawers” in the house were cause to strongly suspect Zondi was motivated by “other reasons”, but said the court could not sentence him on “suspicion alone”.

Unfortunately, only two people had all the facts — one of them is dead and the other is Zondi.

Judge Gyanda said he also could not lose sight of the brutality of the attack on Murison, on whom Zondi inflicted 22 separate injuries. Only one was on her limbs — her right knee — and the others all on her head, neck and upper torso.

If she had been struggling with her killer, the court would have expected her to have been injured on her arms and hands as she defended herself against the killing frenzy. There were none. He said the only explanation must be that she was not even able to defend or protect herself at the time.

Gyanda said extreme violence was used and Zondi assaulted her with such force that her cervical spine was severed. Evidence was that some stab wounds were between 11 cm and 16 cm deep.

He said it was also aggravating that she was attacked in the privacy of her home, where she was entitled to feel safe. He said Zondi in effect “bit the hand that fed him”.

The court was bound to accept his version that he “snapped” because she slapped him and because he was dissatisfied with the way he was treated by his employers, but he had other options, one of which was to walk away.

In a written statement, Zondi said he worked for Liddell for five years as a “general assistant and labourer” and also worked in his sound company, his garden and around the house, developing a “close” relationship with the couple.

He was dissatisfied with his salary, which was “different every month”, and when he tried to discuss this with Liddell, Liddell would brush him off.

He said on February 6, Liddell sent him home as he had a headache. After reaching town, he decided to return as he knew Liddell would be out working at the casino till late and Murison would be home alone. He intended to ask her to intercede with Liddell over his wages.

He said Murison let him in and locked the security gate. She took the baby to another part of the house then returned to the kitchen. He alleged that an argument started between them and she slapped him, causing him to “retaliate”.

“I then picked up a knife from the draining board on the kitchen sink and proceeded to repeatedly stab the deceased. In my rage, when the knife bent, I grabbed whatever else was at hand. This caused me to stab the deceased with another knife and also to strike her on the head with a hammer, which had been lying on the window sill.

When I realised the deceased was lying on the ground motionless, I looked for the keys so that I could get out of the house.”

He said he realised his clothes were full of blood and decided to steal the car to escape. At home in Sweetwaters he gave his bloodied clothing to his sister to burn.

After sentencing, Zondi sat with his face in his hands in the dock in apparent despair over his sentence.

His advocate, Brad Osborne, said he is considering whether to apply for leave to appeal the sentence.

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