Ex-worker guilty of Wartburg murders

2010-04-01 00:00

A FORMER employee at Wartburgerhof Hotel, Muntukayise Ronald Ngubane (35), was convicted yesterday of the murders of hoteliers Ingrid (65) and Siegfried (68) Schadle, and attempted robbery with aggravating circumstances.

His co-accused, Funokwakhwe Ncwane (42), who was linked to the crimes only by virtue of records of cellphone contact between him, Ngubane and other members of the alleged robber gang, was acquitted.

He did not testify in his defence, and Judge Kate Pillay, sitting with assessors, found the evidence against him fell short of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that he was involved in the offences.

Sentencing of Ngubane will take place on Wednesday, April 7.

Ngubane admitted in his evidence during the trial that he instigated and planned the attempted robbery at the hotel on the night of November 7, 2007, but maintained he told his accomplices to avoid using violence as the Schadles were old and would not offer resistance.

His version — which emerged during cross-examination by state advocate Gert Engelbrecht SC — that he told the gunman to remove the cartridges from his firearm before entering the hotel, was rejected by the court.

Pillay called Ngubane “an unmitigated liar”. She said although there was no evidence of a direct intention on Ngubane’s part to kill the Schadles, he must have foreseen that possibility in the event that firearms were carried into a potentially volatile situation such as an armed robbery.

She accepted the evidence of the former head chef at the Wartburgerhof Hotel, Max Haller, which clearly showed that the shots fired at the Schadles were not fired in quick succession as claimed by Ngubane, but that there was an interval between the shots.

She said that after he became aware his former employers were shot, Ngubane did nothing to dissociate himself from the murders. He did not immediately tell the driver of the getaway vehicle to drive off but waited for his accomplices to get in. If he was truly remorseful, one would also have expected him to have gone to the police, if not that night, at least the next day, she said.

Ngubane’s legal aid lawyer, Kelvin Singh, has urged the court to find there were compelling and substantial circumstances that will entitle the court not to impose the minimum prescribed sentence of life imprisonment for murder in the course of an attempted robbery.

Singh said mitigating factors in Ngubane’s favour are that he was fairly young (33 years old) at the time of the crimes; that he was a first offender; that he co-operated with police after his arrest a week later; that he did not have a direct intention to kill the Schadles; and he did not fire the fatal shots.

This submission prompted the judge to remark that if Ngubane had not planned the whole enterprise, the Schadles would be alive today.

She said the murders of the elderly couple were “sad and senseless”. They were entirely defenceless and the robbers could easily have taken what they wanted from the hotel “barehanded” without any killing or violence.

State advocate Mthokozisi Mcanyana called for a sentence of life imprisonment for Ngubane. He said the attackers “did not think twice” about shooting and killing the Schadles and said the community needs protection from people like Ngubane.

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