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Cape Town - Acting judge Patrick Maqubela's death was extremely unlikely to have been natural, the Western Cape High Court heard on Monday.
“My submission is that the State has proved a non-natural cause of death,” prosecutor Bonnie Currie-Gamwo said in closing argument in the murder trial of Maqubela's widow, Thandi.
Judge John Murphy said that while both medics on the scene at the time testified an unnatural death could not be excluded, he was unsure whether the State had gone far enough to prove suffocation.
Thandi is charged with murder, forgery, and fraud. Her co-accused, her business associate Vela Mabena, is charged with murder.
The indictment originally alleged that Maqubela and Mabena
caused the death of the judge by suffocating him with a piece of plastic cling wrap placed over his face.
Murphy subsequently ordered the indictment to be amended so as to allege, in the alternative, that death was caused if not by strangulation, then by means unknown to the prosecution. The court said the amendment had been to “better serve” the proper administration of justice.
Maqubela's body was found in his luxury Bantry Bay apartment on June 7, 2009.
Currie-Gamwo said a security guard and two friends who gained access to his flat that day found no forced entry or break-in, no damage to the door, nor signs that anything had been removed.
They said they were met by a strong stench and saw the body shrouded in a sheet, covering a pillow on the judge's face.
Murphy said another official in the complex testified that when he entered, the pillow was on the judge's face and the sheet was further down by his chest.
Currie-Gamwo said it was likely the scene had already been disturbed at that point.
“If the sheet was over the pillow, it rules out the possibility that, in the throws of death, the pillow fell over the face,” Murphy said.
“I don't know if it rules out natural causes but it puts someone in the room after death and why didn't they take appropriate action (to help him)?”
Currie-Gamwo said cellphone records placed Thandi Maqubela at the flat at the time.
“The only person, on the State's version, who had access to that flat the entire day, was accused number one 1/8Maqubela 3/8.”
The State said the judge's clothes also pointed to possible human intervention. A security guard last saw him alive two days previously wearing a suit.
Currie-Gamwo said a tracksuit top and pants had been put on over the judge's suit and another tracksuit top draped over his shoulders, underneath the sheet.
“It means somebody was trying to create the impression that the deceased didn't leave the flat that morning and (they) did so in a hurried fashion,” she said.
The pedestal next to his bed contained various flu medications.
“It also appears odd because no medications were found inside the body of the deceased. Again, perhaps, someone was trying to create the impression he was ill.”