Durban nightclub murder accused walks free as magistrate throws out State's 'hopeless' case

Magistrate's Court. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)
Magistrate's Court. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Durban - The trial of Travis Nel - accused of murdering Irish citizen John King at a Durban nightclub - ended abruptly on Friday when he was "discharged" without having to call witnesses or testify himself.

Durban Regional Court Magistrate Sharon Marks said the State’s case against Nel was "hopeless", and was based largely on the evidence of one eyewitness, Hermanus Swart, who she described as an "unsatisfactory witness".

Nel, 35, was on trial for the crime which occurred at Eighties Nightclub after a rugby test between the Springboks and the All Blacks in August 2009.

ALSO READ: Witness in 2009 murder case anxious during testimony

The matter has been bedevilled by delays, mainly because Nel left South Africa for England, where he was living at the time of the incident and where he still lives.

Swart testified that he had seen Nel earlier that evening at the One Stop suite at the stadium and later at the nightclub. 

He alleged that he had seen Nel approach King and punch him on the jaw. King had fallen, first hitting his head on the arm of a couch and then on the floor.

Another witness - who pointed out Nel in a "photographic" identity parade - refused to come to court to testify.

At the end of the State’s case, Nel’s attorney Carl van der Merwe applied for his discharge, saying the State had not presented any evidence that he had committed the offence and, therefore, should not have to present a defence.

Magistrate Marks agreed.

She said courts had to be cautious "in not allowing hopeless cases to continue".

"To my mind, Swart was not a satisfactory witness. He struggled and totally contradicted what he said in his police statement. He then said we must ignore all of that evidence because he felt intimidated. 

"He believed the accused was notorious…"

'I am now going home to my wife and my business'

She said Swart had been wrong in saying that Nel had been at One Stop, because even the investigating officer had confirmed his alibi that he was at a wedding during the rugby match.

The photo ID parade - which was hearsay because the witness had refused to testify - was equally problematic and "not worth the paper it was written on".

"His picture was taken from his Facebook page. He was smiling broadly and had a beard. The other pictures were mugshots," she said.

The magistrate also pointed out that two prosecutors, who had handled the docket prior to the matter being set down for trial, had suggested that an inquest be held instead.

She also questioned why other witnesses - including two colleagues of King who were with him at the time - had not testified.

"Notwithstanding that he might have a reputation of being a troublemaker, there is no evidence to place him on his defence. It is a tragic situation for the family of King, but all we know is he fell down and hit his head. What caused that is unknown."

Speaking to News24 afterwards, Nel said: "This has been a massive ordeal for my family and I am relieved the truth has come out, nine years later.

"I am now going home to my wife and my business."

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