Life terms for chainsaw killers

2008-06-19 00:00

It has become a truism in this country that life is cheap, Pietermaritzburg High Court Judge Jan Hugo said yesterday when he sentenced three men to life plus 15 years’ imprisonment for the brutal murder and robbery of their employer, who was attacked with bush knives before he was almost decapitated with a chainsaw last year.

The attack took place in a plantation in Hilton on April 10, 2007.

The sentenced killers are Sibusiso Ramond Shange (30), Johannes Sibongiseni Ndzaba (20) and Sphiwe Bright Gcumisa (23), all of France, Pietermaritzburg.

Investigating officer Sergeant Addesh Ramsaroop said the neck of victim Royith Ramessar (45) was severed about “three quarters of the way through”.

Judge Hugo referred to the findings of a postmortem indicating that Ramessar suffered 16 wounds caused by bush knives.

He said none of the accused explained how these injuries occurred, as those who professed to have seen the assault only testified to “one or two” blows being struck.

Judge Hugo said it was not necessary for the court to find which of the three men wielded the chainsaw as they formed a common purpose to rob and murder the victim.

They were employed by Ramessar to cut trees in the plantation.

The court rejected earlier statements by the three accused and their testimony in court in which they implicated one another.

Judge Hugo said Gcumisa ranked high “on a list of poor witnesses” he had dealt with during his career. The court did not “believe a word” of Gcumisa’s testimony where it was not supported by other evidence and said that the only mitigating factor was the fact that he had handed himself over to police.

Gcumisa was the only one of the three who had previous convictions, for assault and theft.

Judge Hugo (who sat with one assessor) said he could not find any compelling or substantial circumstances to warrant imposing less than the prescribed minimum terms of life imprisonment for the murder and 15 years for robbery with aggravating circumstances.

He said the price of Ramessar’s life was a “broken-down car, a cellphone, a chainsaw and a bit of cash”.

“These three men still had to divide these spoils into three. The most they could have expected to gain was a few days’ drinking money each. Then they come expecting mercy from the court,” the judge said.

Judge Hugo said Shange and Gcumisa were the principal players, but while Ndzaba may have been a “minor player” he “was a player just the same”.

The trio were refused leave to appeal against their convictions and sentences.

The court found that the accused conspired the night before to attack and rob Ramessar.

The court found that they foresaw the possibility that Ramessar would be killed in the process.

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