Attorney testifies against former client accused of staging wife's hijacking

2018-03-22 22:20
High Court. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

High Court. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Durban - A man who pleaded guilty to the murder of his wife - who now says he was "forced" into confessing - told his attorney that he had opened up to his family about what he had done and that he wanted to plead guilty then and there.

Just days after Shanaaz Sewnarain was shot three times at point blank range, in what the State alleges was a staged hijacking in December 2010, her husband Rajiv Sewnarain made a confession to a magistrate and pleaded guilty to the crime in the Durban Regional Court.

He was sentenced to life imprisonment.

But he appealed his conviction and sentence, claiming he was not mentally sound and had been coerced into pleading guilty.

When he failed; he took his case on review. His conviction was overturned on a technicality - that he had not been informed of his right to have assessors.

He is now standing trial before Judge Shyam Gyanda in the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Durban. He has pleaded not guilty.

So far, the magistrate who heard his confession and the prosecutor and private attorney who handled the plea have all given evidence about the events of that day.

READ: Judge says Sewnarain’s new plea makes no sense

On Thursday, attorney Devan Moodley said he had been at another court when he received a call from the investigating officer Viresh Panday, who said someone needed legal representation.

"I went to court and Sewnarain was sitting in the prosecutor's office. All his relatives were there.

"I sat alone with him and he explained his story to me. I checked the docket. I suggested that he try to get bail, but he indicated that he wanted to plead guilty. 

"He told me he had confessed, that he had told everyone what he had done. He wrote his plea in his own handwriting and signed it. His brother signed as a witness.

"We then went up to court and he was convicted and sentenced. The family were all there….they were all hugging him and crying.

"Another brother came to my office a few days later and thanked me for what I had done, saying the family had closure. He then paid me."

Moodley said he was astonished when he heard of Sewnarain's attempts to appeal and review the case.

"No one from the family contacted me to say there was an issue," he said.

ALSO READ: Court hears how murdered KZN woman had been hijacked a month before her death

There has been evidence that Sewnarain had another attorney, Carl van der Merwe, at that time. 

Under cross-examination, Moodley said he had not contacted Van der Merwe about the matter. 

He said, apart from the investigating officer, he had also received a phone call from someone who introduced himself as Sewnarain's brother.

He assumed that it was the same brother he had met at court later.

Defence advocate Shane Matthews said the brother denied speaking to Moodley on the phone and would produce his cellphone records if necessary.

Evidence during the trial has been that Sewnarain was having an affair at the time.

It is alleged he hired two men to kill his wife in what was supposed to look like a hijacking when the couple was returning from buying pizza.

It has also emerged that, on that evening, she was still recovering from injuries she sustained during an attempted hijacking a month before.

Because of the court diary, the trial will only continue later this year.

Read more on:    durban  |  courts  |  crime

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