Cape Town – The State was dealt a potentially devastating blow in the Western Cape High Court on Tuesday when evidence about honeymoon murder-accused Shrien Dewani’s sexuality was ruled irrelevant.
Dewani's sexuality has been a recurring theme during the five days of the trial, and is believed to form a key component of the State's case against him.
Dewani is on trial for masterminding the murder of his bride, Anni Hindocha, during an apparent botched hijacking during their honeymoon in Cape Town in November 2010. He has pleaded not guilty to all five charges against him.
On Tuesday, prosecutor Adrian Mopp called British cybercrime investigator Mark Roberts to the stand and attempted to introduce e-mails which Roberts had retrieved from Dewani's Dell laptop as evidence.
The series of 53 e-mails between Dewani and an unnamed third party in 2009 were apparently sexually explicit and demonstrated that Dewani was "conflicted" about his sexuality, whether to come out of the closet, and whether to commit to marriage, Mopp explained.
However, defence advocate Francois van Zyl objected, questioning whether they were relevant. Mopp replied that there was a "particular factual matrix in this case" and the e-mails provided context, discussed sexual preference, and revealed that his relationship with Anni was not easy.
Deputy Judge President Jeannette Traverso agreed with Van Zyl, sternly telling Mopp that Dewani's sexuality was irrelevant and does not prove motive in this case. She added that this had been dealt with already.
On the first day of the trial, Dewani stated in a detailed plea explanation that he was bisexual and had engaged in sexual activities with other men, including male prostitutes - but that he was physically attracted to Anni and loved her. On Monday, the court heard that Dewani described himself as a single, gay man on his profile on gay dating website Gaydar.
"Why is his sexuality relevant to the fact we have to deal with?" Traverso asked Mopp. She added that his sexuality does not show motive and Dewani had already admitted he was bisexual and used Gaydar.
Dewani watched these arguments closely and attentively, at times nodding in agreement and looking visibly relieved.
The ruling will effectively undermine future attempts by the State to prove that Dewani's sexual orientation was a possible motive for having his wife killed, and leaves observers wondering how strong the State's case will be.
Traverso’s ruling also resulted in an abrupt end to Roberts's testimony. Court adjourned before the next witness, Warrant Officer George Stefanus, took the stand.
The policeman testified that he was on duty on the night of the hijacking, and took a statement from an "emotional" Dewani in the early hours of the next morning at the Cape Grace Hotel. Van Zyl questioned Stefanus closely on why Dewani was not made to make the statement under oath, and why normal procedure was not followed. Stefanus also admitted that he had lost his copy book with notes.
According to Stefanus, Dewani told him that his wife had wanted to experience the townships and wanted to see the nightlife there. He also testified about the property stolen from the Dewanis.
After Stefanus, the owner of a currency exchange store took the stand. Maria Bravetti testified that she received $1 500 in US dollars from Dewani, but his defence stated that he had only brought British pounds with him. She said she gave him R10 200 in cash.
Bravetti's short testimony dealt with a visit by taxi driver Zola Tongo and Dewani to her store on 13 November 2010. She admitted she did not keep a record of the transaction, but remembered it.
During a short adjournment before lunch, the prosecution requested a postponement as the junior state prosecutor has chicken pox. The trial will resume on Monday morning - giving the State some valuable time to re-examine its case.