Port Elizabeth – Christopher Panayiotou and his two co-accused were found guilty of the murder of his wife, Jayde, in the Eastern Cape High Court in Port Elizabeth on Thursday.
Panayiotou, who was celebrating his 31st birthday on Thursday, was found guilty of murder by Judge Dayalin Chetty. Co-accused Sinethemba Nenembe was found guilty of murder and robbery, while Zolani Sibeko was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder.
The packed court was sombre as the guilty verdict, which came after the reading of a lengthy 109-page judgment, was handed down.
Panayiotou, who spent most of the day in court with his head bowed, showed no emotion as the verdict was read out. His mother, Fanoula Panayiotou, who has been fairly composed throughout the trial, broke down in tears in the front row of the public gallery.
Jayde's family and friends, who had packed the back two rows of the gallery, remained composed until court adjourned to discuss dates for sentencing. Jayde's mother, Michelle, and her sister, Toni, cried as they were embraced by friends and family. Her father, Derick, hugged his daughter and held his wife's hand. Many gathered in the public gallery, wearing "Justice for Jayde" T-shirts and yellow ribbons, were in tears.
Sibeko's mother consoled her son as he walked down to the holding cells, while Nenembe got a fist bump from his sister.
When court adjourned at the end of proceedings, after confirming the sentencing date, Jayde's supporters in the public gallery burst into a round of applause as Panayiotou, Nenembe and Sibeko were led down to the holding cells.
None of the family members of those involved in the trial were prepared to speak to the media after sentencing.
Nature of injuries indicate execution
In dealing with the nature of Jayde's injuries, Chetty said Dr Kevin Fourie, the head of the clinical unit Forensic Pathology Services in Port Elizabeth, conducted a post-mortem examination and concluded that the cause of death was consistent with bullet wounds to the head and chest.
Chetty also referred to the evidence led by Captain Gideon Olivier, a ballistics expert attached to the police's forensic services laboratory. Chetty said Olivier's findings concluded that the first shot fired at Jayde entered her back and exited through her chest, the second lacerated the spinal cord and paralysed her from the waist down; and the third was the shot to the head.
Olivier testified that given the trajectory of the latter bullet tract, the shooter would have been standing on her left-hand side with his arm outstretched, pointed in the direction of her head when he fired.
"It is common cause that gun powder residue was discovered on the deceased's hand and the inference can thus properly be made that in her final moments, Jayde's outstretched hand entreated mercy.
"That act of supplication, however, elicited a bullet to her head. The medical and ballistic findings compel the conclusion that this was an execution-style murder," said Chetty.
Siyoni a 'liar'
Chetty was scathing of the testimony of Luthando Siyoni, the alleged middleman who later became a section 204 witness. The judge said Siyoni's testimony was "a cocktail of lies, perjury and contrivances" designed to advance Panayiotou's defence.
Chetty said the true extent of Siyoni's collusion with Panayiotou became clear during Siyoni's testimony.
In his judgment, Chetty said defence counsel for Panayiotou, Advocate Terry Price, had put leading questions to Siyoni in cross-examination but that no weight could be attached to Siyoni's affirmative responses.
Chetty also lambasted Siyoni's legal adviser, Zolile Ngqeza.
"The less said about him, the better. His advice to Siyoni that he should not answer any incriminating questions is in direct conflict with legal precedent," he said.
Chetty said he rejected Siyoni's testimony that he had been tortured by Captain Willie Mayi.
"It is highly improbable, given the unprecedented outcry and media frenzy which accompanied Jayde's murder that Mayi, or any other member of the initial investigation team would have been so foolhardy as to jeopardise the investigation by perpetrating an assault on Siyoni, particularly in light of the revelations by Breakfast of his direct involvement," he said. Babalwa Breakfast is Siyoni's girlfriend.
Chetty later said Panayiotou's entire case was predicated upon Siyoni's alleged torture and that the attack on the integrity of the police officials and the prosecutor was to be expected given the absence of any valid defence to the charge against Panayiotou.
Defence hammered for challenging integrity of witnesses
Chetty was unforgiving of tactics used by Panayiotou's defence to call into question the integrity of various witnesses, including Advocate Johan van der Spuy.
"During the course of this trial his integrity was assailed by Mr Price. The besmirchment of his character is scandalous and merits this court's opprobrium (contempt)."
Chetty also highlighted the recurring theme of "trial by ambush" that Price first raised during the testimony of Warrant Officer Johannes Botes, who had recovered the rental car used in the murder.
"It is apposite at this juncture to state that this constant and repeated complaint is without any substance whatsoever and a deliberate ploy to obfuscate the issue," he said.
Chetty applauded the work done by the state prosecutor and the investigating team.
"Before I conclude this judgment it behoves me to commend the investigating team for their meticulous efforts in unmasking Jayde's murderers. The criticism directed at them and the prosecutor is unfounded," he said
Court reconvenes on November 17 for sentencing proceedings.
READ the full judgement here.