Panayiotou case: Judge overlooked vital evidence, defence lawyer argues

Christopher Panayiotou was found guilty of murder. (Derrick Spies, News24)
Christopher Panayiotou was found guilty of murder. (Derrick Spies, News24)

Christopher Panayiotou's lawyer argued that vital evidence was overlooked and accused Judge Dayalin Chetty of defaming him in his judgment. His argument was part of an application for leave to appeal Panayiotou's conviction.

Panayiotou was found guilty of murder in November last year and received a life sentence for his role in orchestrating the killing of his wife, Jade.

His co-accused, Sinethemba Nenembe and Zolani Sibeko, were also sentenced in the Eastern Cape High Court in Port Elizabeth in 2017.

Nenembe was sentenced to life for murder and an additional 15 years for robbery. Sibeko, who was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder, was sentenced to 15 years.

READ: Jubilation and tears as Panayiotou is sentenced to life

Defence advocate Terry Price, SC, argued that Chetty had overlooked vital evidence in the case.

He pointed out several aspects, which he said Chetty had not even mentioned in his 109-page judgment.

Price again focused a large part of his argument on events around self-confessed middleman, Luthando Siyoni, who lost his immunity as a section 204 witness. Siyoni was recently arrested on a charge of murder for his involvement in Jayde's death and will be facing a separate trial.

Price argued that there were several complex issues relating to Siyoni, including whether he had been assaulted by the police at the time of his arrest and whether the video of his conversation with Panayiotou was indeed admissible. He also questioned whether the recording of the calls and conversation in the car were admissible under RICA legislation.

Price also highlighted issues around the lack of a search warrant when Siyoni and his girlfriend Babalwa Breakfast's house was searched and raised concerns over timeline discrepancies relating to when investigating officer Kanna Swanepoel and fellow officers actually joined the investigation.

'It hurt me'

During his argument, Price challenged Chetty on comments he had made regarding the defence in his judgment.

"I'm not going to talk about the comments made about us, by your lordship as well. Your lordship referred to us as suborning state witnesses. That is not only humiliating, that's defamatory."

Chetty immediately asked where in the judgment were the statements that Price was referring to. 

"It's all over the judgment. The word suborned means we paid state witnesses to come and lie in court.

"I didn't complain when I first heard your lordship saying this, because I didn't know what it meant to be quite honest."

Price said it was not like Chetty to make such comments.

"It's a terrible word to use, it's an insult to me and in fact it is defamatory to me. It hurt me," he said.

Judgment expected 

Following Price's arguments, defence attorney for Nenembe and Sibeko, Peter Dauberman, said his clients were also asking for leave to appeal the judgments against them, and Sibeko was also asking for leave to appeal his sentence.

Prosecutor Marius Stander said he was not going to argue the points raised by Price, as they had all been raised and dealt with as part of the trial.

He said the State believed the conviction stood on three legs, namely the video evidence, the statements from Siyoni and Breakfast, and the circumstantial evidence. He said each of those were independent of each other.

Stander said the test for leave to appeal was not whether another court might come to another decision, but whether there was a realistic chance that the appeal would succeed, and his opinion was that this was not the case.

Chetty then adjourned for the day. He is expected to hand down judgment on Thursday.

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