Oscar trial cited in Durban murder case

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Durban - Merebank murder accused Donovan Mark Ramdass, alleged to have killed his girlfriend by suffocating her with a plastic bag and strangling her with an extension cord, is to be sent for mental observation.

The State made the application in the Durban Regional Court on Tuesday, drawing parallels with a similar request in the Oscar Pistorius case - who is on trial for the shooting death of his girlfriend.

Prosecutor Blackie Swart said the request was based on Ramdass’s affidavit made in preparation for his bail application, which was initially set down to be heard on Tuesday.

Ramdass, 30, who following his request would undergo 30 days of observation by three state psychiatrists at Fort Napier Hospital in Pietermaritzburg, said in his affidavit he would be pleading not guilty.

He is using a defence of “diminished criminal liability”, in terms of which an accused may argue that, although they might have broken the law, they should not be held fully criminally liable as their mental functions were diminished or impaired.

In the Pistorius trial, State advocate Gerrie Nel had applied for the Olympian to be referred to a mental health facility following testimony of a defence witness, psychiatrist Dr Merryl Vorster, who concluded Pistorius suffered from an anxiety disorder.

Pistorius underwent 30 days of mental observation by three state psychiatrists and a clinical psychologist to establish his frame of mind when he shot Reeva Steenkamp early on Valentine’s Day last year.

They concluded that Pistorius did not suffer from any mental illness that resulted in him having diminished criminal responsibility for his actions.

Ramdass, facing a charge of murder and robbery, is accused of killing his 35-year-old girlfriend, Ashika Singh, in March at the home they apparently shared.

Singh’s mother Dolly, returning home from a casino, found her body in her bedroom with an extension cord around her neck and a plastic bag over her head.

Singh’s courtesy car, on loan from a panel-beating shop, was missing but was later found in the Point area.

Ramdass, who handed himself over to the police soon afterwards, said he had lived with Singh for the past three years in Merebank and was the nominated driver for the hired vehicle.

He also referred in his affidavit to State witnesses disclosing that he battled with drug addiction and that Singh would buy drugs for him, even pawning personal items to support his drug habit.

Ramdass denied items were pawned.

Referring to his previous history of drug rehabilitation, he said he intended to continue an assessment by a psychologist at the Thames House Rehabilitation Centre in Johannesburg.

He also referred to an independent investigation team being tasked with gathering further evidence for his case.

He said his relative was branch commander of the detective unit at Wentworth SAPS where he had handed himself in. This, he said, would “negate any nepotism and ensure fair prosecution”.

Magistrate Vanitha Armu said it was in the interest of justice that Ramdass be sent for mental observation.

However, Singh’s family who were expecting to hear a bail application, were upset by the delay.

Family spokesman, Naresh Rampersad, said they had been to court several times hoping the matter would move along. Ramdass had initially abandoned a bail application and then changed his mind.

At his previous court appearance last month, the family handed a petition to the State with more than 5 000 signatures of people who objected to bail for Ramdass.

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