Genetic disease rare, Maqubela trial hears

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Maqubela oct 23 INLSA Thandi Maqubela leaves the Taj Hotel with her lawyer, Marius Broeksma. Photo: Candice Mostert

Cape Town - It was unlikely that a genetic heart disease played a role in the death of acting judge Patrick Maqubela, the Western Cape High Court heard on Wednesday.

Forensic pathologist Prof Lorna Martin was quizzed on the genetic disease, Brugada syndrome, in the murder trial of Maqubela's widow Thandi and her co-accused, businessman Vela Mabena.

They are accused of murdering Maqubela, who was 60 at the time of his death, by suffocating him with cling-wrap on June 5, 2009.

His widow maintains that he died of natural causes.

The State asked Martin if she knew about the syndrome and its prevalence.

She replied that it was an irregular heartbeat syndrome which caused electrical disturbances in the organ and could lead to sudden death.

Most cases showed structural abnormalities in the heart and declared themselves during medical examination, she said.

The court previously heard that a medical examination of the judge a few months before his death showed him to be in good health.

Martin said that in reviewing literature for more information about the syndrome, she had found that it was more common in south-east Asian men and most articles were written about these cases.

“I did not do a search in the literature of how many instances there were in black, African men,” she told the court.

The defence reportedly suggested in a previous hearing that Maqubela could have had a severe allergic reaction to the Bee-Propolis tablets found on his bedside table or to the Viagra he was taking.

Prosecutor Bonnie Currie-Gamwo asked Martin about anaphylaxis - a severe and rapid allergic reaction that can result in death.

Martin told the court it quite often resulted in rashes or swelling, and would always be accompanied by a feeling of not being able to breathe and the lungs filling up with something.

She described it as a “frenetic, frantic sensation” and said a sufferer would “be extra anxious; would want to seek help and get air”.

Maqubela was found lying on the left side of his bed and the curtains in the bedroom were drawn.

Martin said that to her knowledge, there were no reported cases of people dying as a result of an allergic reaction to bee's wax.

Defence lawyer Martin Broeksma put it to Martin that death by irregular heartbeat could still not be excluded.

She agreed, but said suffocation could also not be excluded.

Broeksma asked if she had any doubts about suffocation, considering there were no marks found on the body.

Martin replied that it had crossed her mind. It was possible decomposition may have played a role, she replied.

The defence closed its cross-examination and the case was postponed until Monday for the last witness to testify. - Sapa


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