Expert under fire in taxi crash case

2012-02-20 22:24

Cape Town - The credibility of a criminologist's report being used to argue in mitigation of sentence for taxi driver Jacob Humphreys was questioned in the Western Cape High Court on Monday.

Judge Robert Henney criticised Claire Wolff for not looking at his December 2011 judgment, in which he found Humphreys guilty of murder and attempted murder, when compiling her pre-sentencing report.

He said as the minibus taxi driver had no memory of the events leading up to the train collision it meant his version had been discounted.

Wolff read out her report and told the court no definite conclusion could be reached as to what may have motivated Humphreys to commit his crimes. As a result, she could only speculate, using theories as well as interviews with the driver and his family, friends, and neighbours.

Henney said: "I came to the conclusion in my judgment that he actually does remember... That's the difficulty I have with your report... I need to be assisted [with your conclusion]. If his version was reasonably or possibly true, I would have acquitted him."

Her credibility was brought into question by State prosecutor Susan Galloway, who pointed out that Wolff completed her qualification with honours in 2011. Galloway told the court this meant Wolff had only been practising for a few months.

She confirmed this was Wolff's first testimony in court and only the second time she had written a pre-sentencing report. At this point, the packed public gallery broke into whispers.

Humphreys sat quietly through the proceedings with his arms folded, often listening with his eyes closed.

Suspended sentence suggested

While taking children to school on August 25 2010 he overtook a row of cars at the Buttskop level crossing in Blackheath, ignored safety signals and drove over the tracks. A train hit the taxi and 10 of the children were killed. Four others were seriously injured.

Wolff's report suggested Humphreys should serve a suspended sentence of five years on condition that he offered monetary compensation for medical expenses and schooling, take part in restorative justice and submit to correctional supervision.

Galloway said the murder and attempted murder of children was a serious offence which had a ripple effect not only on the victims' families, but also on society.

"The train driver and those who waited [at the level crossing] would be affected. And Metrorail has to carry the costs of repairs [to the railway line]. The very community which Mr Humphreys was trying to help would in effect be punished by this crime."

The prosecutor said that in any case, Humphreys would not be able to afford monetary compensation. According to the pre-sentencing report he had little money left after all his expenses. Added to this, it was believed he had sold both his vehicles and one of his properties to pay for his lawyer.

Wolff maintained compensation was possible. She told the judge she believed Humphreys was remorseful, having expressed the desire to meet with the victims' families.

"He has genuine sorrow for what he has done and is accepting responsibility. He's not just sorry for being caught, but also for his actions. I do not believe Mr Humphreys is a danger to society."

Henney said the accused had never acknowledged his guilt, which was a precursor to restorative justice. He added that if he gave a suspended sentence to Humphreys, it would send the message to drivers they could get away anything.

Pre-sentencing proceedings continue on Tuesday.

  • brionyl.french - 2012-02-21 05:04

    This man needs to be sentenced to death, 10 lives taken from us because of this idiot. He doesnt deserve to live!!!!

      Sean - 2012-02-21 07:32

      I agree. No memmory, or should that be no mammory. Besides being a murderer, he is now a lier to. I bet that that is the only thing that he has forgotten about. Don't worry bud, life is cheap, so we accept your mammory loss, here have another taxi. If my kid was in there, i would hunt this c8nt down and administer some vigilante justice, feenesh and klaar

  • Blane - 2012-02-21 06:15

    An example needs to be made, hang him high .

      Hector - 2012-02-21 06:50

      Naw .. park his ass in front of an oncoming train ... let he be as terrified as those kids in their last moments .. and make it a slow train ..

      Ally - 2012-02-21 13:48

      Good one, Hector. Perhaps you'd like to drive that train.

  • Dennis - 2012-02-21 07:05

    Whatever ........ does not bring back 10 murdered children !!

  • Schmee - 2012-02-21 07:13

    Why on earth didn't they use someone with much more experience in such a high profile case. I feel so sorry for her.

  • Karri - 2012-02-21 07:16

    There is no amount of money on this planet to compensate for the loss of a loved one. The fill the void in ones heart with money?? What a load of crap! Ms Wolff needs to go back to school....and the murderer locked away.

      Warrick - 2012-02-21 07:43

      you right nothing can replace a life and no amount of money can repair the damage done to the family he must get life without possible parole

  • Lloyd - 2012-02-21 07:30

    who is this woman???? is she from another planet???? what the heck!

  • Gerald - 2012-02-21 07:34

    Ms. Wolf, how will monetary compensation for "schooling and medical expenses" help us? My brother is dead, how will any monetary compensation bring him or his mates back? As for the other kids who survived, will monetary compensation ease their lives which were destroyed by this act of irresponsible and reckless driving? It is easy to make him out as remorseful and expressing desires to meet with us, but what will his efforts bring to us,what will it mean now, 18 months later? We live with that emptiness, that missing boy in the house, an empty bed, room and open seat at our dinner table. How will his blood money compensate for anything? Had he said "I am sorry" earlier, it might have gone further than it does now, but he was defiant, his family acted out of arrogance in the newspapers making him the victim in all this, and yes he might be a victim, but he will be caught in his pain for a lifetime.

      Karri - 2012-02-21 07:45

      I am sorry for your pain and loss.

      JohhnyBGood - 2012-02-21 08:30

      I can not possibly see how he is a victim. As you said, if he said "I am sorry, I made a booboo" then things could've been different. He really is only sorry for being caught.

  • winston.mullany - 2012-02-21 07:35

    He is a danger to society, his a taxi driver and he killed 10 kids! What f^&%^& more do you need!!

  • Karri - 2012-02-21 07:39

    One of the biggest problems on our roads is that people are not held accountable for their negligence - they drive badly, ignore rules and when they kill innocent people they get a slap on the wrist! If someone kills another in a car accident due to their negligence, they must go to jail for murder - no lesser charges - murder! Difficult to prove sometimes, but not impossible!

      Gerald - 2012-02-21 07:59

      thank you!

  • Rob - 2012-02-21 08:01

    WTF!?!?!?!?! "Wolff's report suggested Humphreys should serve a suspended sentence of five years on condition that he offered monetary compensation for medical expenses and schooling, take part in restorative justice and submit to correctional supervision", so she doesn't recommend his drivers license be cancelled or that he never be allowed to operate a vehicle again???

  • WigzellRM - 2012-02-21 08:05

    Let him rot in jail and think about what he did. This was a reckless and irresponsible act typical behavior of many taxi drivers. Has the criminologist been to visit the families?

  • Christopher - 2012-02-21 08:13

    Don't think Ms Wolff will be getting too many briefs for a while - at least until she sorts herself out!

  • Angus - 2012-02-21 08:28

    It seems all along Humphreys never really displayed remorse. Unfortunately that is the key ingredient here. Anything less than a 20 year jail sentence without early parole will be an injustice to the law and the children who died as well as their families. Blatant criminal behaviour CANNOT go unpunished!

  • Barry - 2012-02-21 08:29

    "I do not believe Mr Humphreys is a danger to society" Somehow the dead childrens parents will beg to disagree. There is an old saying..."it is better to remain silent and appear a fool that open your mouth and remove all doubt". Humphereys can be clearly described as a homicidal maniac. What other decent human being would attempt to pull such a mindless act with the valuable lives of all those children in the vehicle. The man does not deserve to live.

  • Liz - 2012-02-21 08:55

    Dont forget that "he overtook a row of cars at the Buttskop level crossing in Blackheath, ignored safety signals and drove over the tracks" and sadly that is almost a norm for many, many minibus taxi drivers that we see everyday - so maybe she did not think it that the events leading up to the accident were a big deal. I find her recommended sentence unbelievable but at the same time whoever is responsible for her supervision clearly did not do their job either - so it is more of a reflection on the system she is working for.

  • Warwick - 2012-02-21 13:25

    Compensatiom for a childs life? Love to know what a childs life is worth? This is a greedy pig of a man who was in a rush to make as many trips as possible for his financial gain and stuff the safety of his passengers.

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