Durban - A Durban policeman was convicted of murder on Tuesday after a court rejected his claim that he had shot a young knife-wielding attacker in self-defence.
Evidence of the knife had not been presented in court, Durban magistrate Anand Maharaj said in passing judgment.
Warrant Officer Sagren Malayan, 40, of the Reunion SAPS had been off duty when he killed Romano Dean Govender, 20, after an altercation outside Hillgrove Secondary School in Newlands West on October 20, 2012.
The bullet struck Govender’s right arm, penetrated his chest and caused internal injuries, including to both lungs.
Earlier in the trial Malayan testified in the Durban Magistrate’s Court that he had gone to the school, at which his family had been holding a function that Saturday, to defuse a situation after a group of youths, which included Govender, had become unruly.
A squabble broke out and Malayan said Govender attacked him with a knife.
The off-duty policeman said he pulled out his firearm, cocked it and fired two warning shots in the air, which were not intended to harm Govender but merely scare him.
However, prosecutor Kuveshni Pillay rejected Malayan’s claims.
In her closing argument she questioned why he had followed the youths out of the school driveway when the fight among them had nothing to do with him.
She said it was highly improbable that he had showed them his appointment card and introduced himself as a policeman and he could not provide a reasonable explanation as to why he could not secure the knife, which he claimed had been used to attack him.
Pillay also questioned why Malayan had not directed his defence at the attacker instead of firing shots at an elevated angle over Govender’s head.
In his closing argument, defence attorney Viren Singh said the two State witnesses were unreliable and had contradicted each other.
They had created a scenario in which either of them could have taken the knife, Singh said.
Singh said although the fight between the youngsters had nothing to do with his client, as a policeman he was entitled to stop trouble at his family function. He said Malayan had acted in self-defence and was traumatised by the incident.
Delivering his judgment on Tuesday, Maharaj said the knife was critical to his verdict.
“The accused, who is a policeman, failed to secure the knife which he claimed was used to attack him. I find it inconceivable that he failed to secure the area and even forgot to tell the investigating police officer about the knife at the time of the incident,” he said.
“He testified that his witness saw the knife, then why didn’t his witness assist?” Maharaj inquired.
“If his witness saw the knife I would expect the defence to call him to testify to provide collaboration to satisfy the requirements in his case. Unfortunately, the defence did not do that. Did the accused think he was playing a game of warning shots?”
The magistrate said it was improbable that Malayan had fired warning shots while being charged with a knife from such a short distance.
“One cannot fire warning shots if someone is about to kill you.”
While he noted there were some contradictions in the witness testimony and referred to the police investigation as “haphazard and lackadaisical”, these were not detrimental to the State’s case, he said.
Regarding the evaluation of the State witnesses, Maharaj said that while the evidence of Nivasen Gramoney was questionable, he was satisfied with Oshir Harripersad’s testimony.
Earlier in the trial, Gramoney, 22, and Harripersad, 19, testified they had seen the entire incident.
Gramoney said he had heard two shots being fired and saw two muzzle flashes. Malayan had grabbed Govender in the left torso area and he heard a further gunshot go off, he testified.
He said Govender collapsed and he and Harripersad had assisted him.
Gramoney denied Govender was in possession of a knife and that Malayan had shown an appointment card verifying he was a policeman.
Malayan was convicted of murder but was found not guilty of handling a firearm while under the influence of alcohol.
Speaking after the verdict outside court, Govender’s mother Julie said that while she was happy that there was closure, the incident had sent her into a depression.
“He was liable for my child’s death. He took Romano away for life, therefore he must get a life sentence,” she said.
“Our lives will never be the same. I am just glad that he has been found guilty.”
Malayan’s bail was extended and sentencing is expected on September 2.