Mihalik murder: What we know so far

2018-11-18 10:15

Cape Town lawyer Pete Mihalik was shot dead in broad daylight 19 days ago. The 50-year-old's murder shocked the legal fraternity and general public because of the brazenness of the attack.

There are still many question marks around why someone would go to those lengths to take him out.

It's believed that over the past two years, Mihalik had found himself in the middle of an apparent fight between two underworld factions in Cape Town.

Here is what we know so far:

All about Mihalik

Over the years, Mihalik has been the go-to lawyer for underworld figures and individuals linked to a deadly turf war that has been blamed for numerous assassination attempts and killings in Cape Town. This "turf war" has been raging between a more well-established grouping linked to Sea Point businessman Mark Lifman and a "new" faction headed by Nafiz Modack. It is believed that Mihalik had attempted to intervene to resolve the dispute.

He was popular and although his personal life was chequered, several colleagues described him as a committed parent and a "mediator, peacemaker, good guy and a good lawyer". He was also no stranger to tragedy, having lost his wife, mother and sister to suicide.

The shooting and the scene of the crime

Mihalik was doing the school run around 07:30 on Tuesday, October 30, outside the Reddam House Atlantic Seaboard school in Green Point. With him in his Mercedes-Benz was his young son and teenage daughter.

Residents in Thornhill Road, a quiet side street leading to the school, reported that Mihalik took the same route to the school at the same time every day and they knew he was in the road by the sound of his vehicle.

Just a few metres before the school, a gunman approached Mihalik's SUV and fired shots at close range. Mihalik was hit in the head and the bullet is believed to have lodged in his son's jaw. His son is said to be out of danger and recovering. His daughter was not injured.

Residents reported hearing around two shots, which were heard up to a kilometre away. A family living nearby saw the shooter. The mother of that family said the shooter was calm and carried a "big silver gun" that almost looked like a toy gun. She said the shooter seemed to hide his gun behind a briefcase as he walked quickly away from the scene and got into a vehicle.

Police said the man was seen fleeing the scene in a metallic grey VW Polo. The shooter and car were captured on CCTV.

The scene was cordoned off with police tape. A police officer surveyed the CCTV footage at a guesthouse nearby.

Confused and worried parents herded their children away, the school announced it was in lockdown and extra security was organised for those who stayed in class. Traffic was gridlocked on Main Road as police parked their vehicles on the side and diverted others away. 

In Thornhill Road, friends and colleagues of Mihalik stood nearby in apparent shock, as specialist police teams combed the scene for forensic evidence. A man in white scrubs documented the scene with a hand-held camera, even going down on his knees at one point to film under the vehicle. Someone held a Reddam backpack that was said to belong to Mihalik's son. Blood could be seen on the leather tag on the back of the bag. Mihalik's body, covered in a white sheet, was wheeled into a forensic pathology van on Cavalcade Road a few hours later.

The suspects and criminal case

A well-placed source, who has knowledge of the Cape underworld, says it is "true" that a R1m hit was put out on Mihalik from jail. He confirmed a Sunday Times report that two crime figures arranged with a former Gugulethu tavern owner, who was serving time in jail for armed robbery, to have the lawyer killed. The former tavern owner then allegedly contacted a Khayelitsha taxi owner, who then hired the hitmen. None of the inner workings of the so-called assassination have come out in court. 

Shortly after the killing, Sizwe Sinzokohle Biyela, 26, and Nkosinathi Khumalo, 31, were charged with the premeditated murder of "Peter Frederich Mihalik". Both are from KwaZulu-Natal. They have also been charged with attempted murder (no premeditation clause attached), possession of an unlicensed firearm and possession of ammunition.

The State says one of the men was out on bail for a serious charge at the time of the shooting, with the NPA adding the matter was related to a murder charge outside of the Western Cape.

Biyela is believed to have pulled the trigger, according to Netwerk24.

- See more stories on Pete Mihalik here.

A few days later, 35-year-old taxi owner Vuyile Maliti handed himself over to police.

The accused had a 9mm firearm, "the further details of which are unknown to the State" and an unknown number of 9mm calibre rounds. Netwerk24 reports that the murder weapon hasn't been found.

In terms of the Minimum Sentence Act, they face possible life imprisonment in that the murder was planned or premeditated for a common purpose or conspiracy.

The investigating officer in the case is Lieutenant-Colonel Charl Kinnear and he has told the State that identity parades still needed to be concluded. The Cape Town Magistrate's Court has ordered that no photos or footage of the accused may be taken at this stage because it could infringe on their rights.

Possible motives

Everyone has different theories about the motive. Some believed it was connected to one of the cases he was working on involving taxi owners. Police Minister Bheki Cele publicly stated that Mihalik's death was linked to the taxi industry.

His father, Janos Mihalik, said shortly after the shooting that it could be a fight about money as his son sometimes argued with clients about payment. Many believe it is linked to the turf war or to Mihalik having too much information on different people and cases.

It is believed the murder may also be linked to the criminal trial of Modack, Colin Booysen, veteran bouncer Jacques Cronje, Ashley Fields and Carl Lakay, of which Mihalik was a defence attorney. They were arrested in December last year, accused of running an extortion racket. It was also alleged they were operating a security service while not being registered with the proper authorities.

FOLLOW our Special Report, News24 Showcase: Underworld Unmasked 

During their lengthy bail application earlier this year, extensive details emerged, including allegations of police corruption. Modack has also been accused of being an official police source after photos emerged of him meeting with high-ranking cops.

In a press release issued through a media manager, Modack asked for privacy and explained that he had made the decision to decline all interviews about his "dear friend". He said he has faith in the country's justice system and will co-operate with authorities to get those responsible for Mihalik's murder behind bars.

Aftermath

Mihalik's funeral took place at St Mary's Cathedral last Saturday. Alleged 28s gang boss Ralph Stanfield was a pallbearer and Colin Booysen made an appearance - both of whom had in the past been represented by Mihalik. The Cape Bar held a well-attended memorial service for him on Monday.

"This is the first time that we can recall that a member has been assassinated. We felt the need to mark that, to come together as lawyers. We don't condone it. We won't be forced into submission," said Cape Bar chairperson Ismail Jamie, SC.

The shooting in a built-up area during daylight hours, with the possibility of many witnesses, could be seen as a move by an amateur criminal. Alternatively, it could be interpreted as a calculated action by hardened criminals wanting to send a chilling message.

It is understood that those close to the slain lawyer have tightened security around them in the wake of the murder, with some hiring bodyguards and ordering their families to leave the province.

Attorney Juan Smuts, who knew Mihalik well and worked with him on cases, said the loss of Mihalik's mediation skills could have repercussions.

"Pete's clients were very loyal and protective towards him over the years, however, this unfortunate incident will in all likelihood cause a bigger chasm between the respective groups in the underworld," he said.

As for the three accused, they appeared in the Cape Town Magistrate's Court on Thursday.

One of the three men, Biyela, was seen shaking in the dock. He is the one believed to have pulled the trigger, according to Netwerk24. It was not clear whether he was cold, scared or feeling unwell.

The three were remanded to different prisons in the Western Cape, and will return to court on November 29 for their next appearance.


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Read more on:    pete mihalik  |  cape town  |  crime
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