‘My goodness ... he's going for the long haul’
Cape Town - Xolile Mngeni pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to kidnapping, robbing and killing honeymooner Anni Dewani.
He also denied a count of illegal possession of a firearm and refused to make any formal admissions in the Western Cape High Court.
This means the State will have to prove each fact in its case, including that the slain woman's body was indeed that of 28-year-old Dewani.
Judge Robert Henney seemed surprised that no formal admissions would be made and said: “My goodness, so he's going for the long haul.”
Henney warned Mngeni that the murder charge carried a life sentence “because of the manner in which it was planned”.
He said the kidnapping charge carried a minimum sentence of five years and the robbery charge 15 years.
Dewani was shot in an apparent car hijacking while on honeymoon with her husband Shrien in Cape Town in November 2010.
A co-accused Mziwamadoda Qwabe pleaded guilty to the same charges last week, as part of a plea and sentencing agreement. He was sentenced to an effective 25 years in jail.
State prosecutor Shareen Riley told the court that up to 32 witnesses could be called to testify.
She asked that their names and addresses be withheld because of a likelihood of harm or intimidation by members of the public.
Matthews Dayimani, for the defence, wanted to lodge an application in terms of the first witness on the list.
He said he was concerned that the person was being offered immunity from prosecution in return for implicating others.
The lawyer wanted access to correspondence between the Director of Public Prosecutions and the police to make sure the intentions were pure.
He also asked whether Dewani's relatives were happy that the person could be offered immunity in return for testifying.
“As I stand here, I'm asking myself what relevance would witness one's testimony be to the allegations being faced by the accused?” Dayimani asked.
Henney said the court would decide during cross-examination whether the testimony was relevant.
It was also not up to a judge to decide whether a person could be added or withdrawn from a witness list.
Mngeni appeared calm on Wednesday. He sat next to his lawyer during proceedings so he could hear and take notes.
Photographers were ordered by the court to keep their distance and to preserve Mngeni's dignity, following complaints from previous appearances.
Henney ordered that the name and identity of the first witness be withheld.
Riley had told the court it would be alleged that the person “conspired with others to procure a hitman, to commit a murder”.
The witness was also accused of illegal possession of ammunition.
Henney warned that the witness was obliged to give evidence and said: “At the end of the day, and this is your reward, if you answer all these questions frankly... and honestly... you will be indemnified from prosecution; in other words, you will not be charged.
“Play open cards, come clean”. - Sapa