Men convicted of ATM bombings set free on appeal

2018-03-05 13:12
High Court. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

High Court. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Pietermaritzburg - Nine men, who were initially found guilty of being part of a gang of ATM bombers who killed three people, including a policeman, have been set free.

This, after three judges found on appeal that, while the evidence obtained raised "strong suspicions", it was not enough to convict them of any of the 31 charges.

Judges Gregory Kruger, Peter Olsen and Mahendra Chetty said in the ruling handed down in the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Pietermaritzburg on Friday, that the judge who presided over the trial, at which 65 witnesses testified, seemed to ignore concessions made by the prosecutor in respect of certain charges.

The three judges ruled that this was evident by the fact that State advocate Dorian Paver had, in argument, submitted that there was insufficient evidence to convict three of the men.

At the time, the High Court still found them guilty and sentenced them to three terms of life imprisonment.

"No reasons were given why the trial judge disagreed with these submissions and concessions. The judgment did not record the concessions at all," the three judges said.

Thembela Ngubane, Menziiwe Mdakane, Sifiso Mdakane, Sifiso Khubeka, Sibongiseni Msibi, Sphelele Dubazane, Muthikabani Buthelezi, Mthenjwa Buthelezi and Lungisani Dladla, all hail from Gauteng, have been released.

The high-profile trial came to an end in 2016 in the Pietermaritzburg High Court when nine of the accused were convicted on multiple charges of robbery with aggravating circumstances, contravening the Explosives Act and causing an explosion, malicious damage to property, attempted murder, murder, and the unlawful possession of explosives, machine rifles and prohibited firearms.

They all pleaded not guilty and did not testify.

The trial judge ruled that they had been part of a syndicate intent on bombing ATMs between September 28, 2012 and January 13, 2013.

No direct implication to crimes

They were convicted of killing K9 unit constable Vidhur Jadoo, who was shot dead while backing up his colleagues who were "under siege" in Howick on November 7, 2012, as well as bombing ATMs in Howick, Merrivale, Nottingham Road and Greytown.

They were also convicted of the murders of Sizwe Gule and Patricia Nkosi, who were shot in their car after stopping near a garage hit by the bombers, in Utrecht in December 2012.

When the nine were arrested, they were found in possession of 119 AK-47 rounds, three AK-47s, a .45 ACP pistol, explosives and electric detonators, the judge found.

Read: Deadly ATM bombing caught on camera

The judge relied on cellphone and DNA evidence and the fact that they were found in possession of firearms and explosives to convict them.

But in the appeal ruling, penned by Judge Kruger, the three judges said none of the men had been directly implicated in any of the crimes.

They said the firearms and explosives were not found physically in their possession and, while there were ballistic links to some of the firearms with the crime scenes, it "does not lead to the conclusion that they were present at those scenes".

Also read: ATM flung 30m after bombing, PMB court told

Further, they said, the analysis of the cellphone data revealed that not all the men were present in the areas where the crimes had been committed.

The next problem, they said, was the admission into evidence of two statements from accomplice witnesses who both died before the trial.

"The case against the men was based exclusively on circumstantial evidence. Because of the shortcomings of that evidence, something else was needed to bolster the case.

"However, these statements were not properly admitted into evidence and the State was unable to advance argument that the other evidence was, on its own, sufficient to justify the convictions," they said.

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