The affordable education loan option
Johannesburg - One of three men accused of the murder of Orange Grove resident Barney van Heerden has turned State witness, striking a plea bargain to testify against his co-accused.
Van Heerden was found strangled in his home in September 2011, after having allegedly invited in the three men.
The murder was the first case identified by The Star in what police now believe were a series of related killings of gay men in Gauteng and the Western Cape.
In November last year, police told the media they suspected that the killings were being conducted by a gang targeting gay men. The murderers would seduce their way into their victims’ homes.
It was around November that Maxwell Nyathi, Mthokozisi Ndlovu and Bheki Maseko were arrested for Van Heerden’s murder. But after a year of investigation, police have been unable to forensically link the trio to any of the other crimes, and the only charges they faced were the murder of Van Heerden and the robbery of his house.
The murder and robbery trial of the three men was set to start this week, but on Monday it was postponed for Nyathi to find a new lawyer.
Then, on Friday, the real reason for the postponement became clear when it was learnt that Nyathi had signed a plea agreement with the National Prosecuting Authority, agreeing to serve 20 years, with four years suspended, to testify about Maseko and Ndlovu’s part in the murder plot.
On Friday morning, however, when appearing before the Palm Ridge High Court circuit, Nyathi looked as though he was going to turn on the State, when he pleaded “not guilty”, clearly irritating state advocate Mahlubi Ntlakaza.
Nyathi told the court he “could not plead guilty to a murder (he knew) nothing about”.
Nyathi’s case was then separated from Maseko and Ndlovu’s, and it was in another courtroom that Nyathi pleaded guilty and his sentence was passed down.
The trial against Maseko and Ndlovu begins on Monday.
The series of eight murders in Gauteng began with the killing of Manolis Veloudos in April 2010, followed in 2011 by the deaths of Jim Cathels, Oscar O’Hara, 33, Siphiwe Selby Nhlapo, 36, a 47-year-old unnamed landlord and Van Heerden.
HIV activist Jason Wessenaar was killed in his home in December 2011 and theatre manager Rulov Senekal was found dead on February 25 last year.
Police have confirmed there are other cases in Cape Town they believe are linked to the group.
However, despite a recent arrest in one of the other cases, The Star understands investigations into the gang’s activities have all but ground to a halt.