Two men convicted of stabbing their friend to death with a screwdriver when he refused to give them a sip of his beer, had their convictions and 15-year jail sentences overturned on appeal after the Pretoria High Court found the State’s star witness was so intoxicated that she did not know what was going on.
Patrick Mokhanda and Tsietsi Mabasa were sentenced in October 2011 in Sebokeng Regional Court and have served more than two years of their sentence.
Their convictions were based on the evidence of a woman called Mathapelo, who admitted that she had consumed at least two cases – 24 bottles of 750ml beer that night.
She had also had “a few” in the morning before taking the stand in the trial of the two men.
She testified that she met the two accused on a street corner in the early hours of the morning the incident occurred. They went to the home of the dead man (who is not named in the judgment) where a fight broke out about beer.
She said the victim was drinking his beer and Mokhanda asked for a sip. When this was refused, Mokhanda slapped him across the face.
According to her, Mabasa was also denied a sip. She said he then took a screwdriver out of his pocket.
The woman said she left at that point and heard the next morning that the man had died.
Mathapelo said the spot where the dead man was found was far from where she left him in the company of the accused.
She was adamant that he had died because he would not share his beer, but conceded she never saw him being stabbed.
During cross-examination the woman said she “could not see what was going on around her, as she was too drunk”.
At one stage she claimed that she had left the tavern where she had been drinking with the two accused.
When confronted with the fact that they had left the tavern much earlier, she said “maybe she was walking with a ghost”.
Questioned by the defence, the woman said she had some drinks before coming to court and “was having a headache”.
The two accused said they left the tavern early that night for home and had witnesses to collaborate that. They said they were woken up by the police early the next morning and knew nothing about the incident. While Mathapelo was adamant the dead man must have been killed by the man “holding the screwdriver”, Judge MJ Teffo questioned how she could say that if she did not witness the stabbing.
The magistrate at the time concluded that the accused were the killers, as they were last seen in the company of the dead man.
But the defence questioned how one could believe the evidence of the main witness, as she was extremely drunk that night.
“Given the state in which she was on the night of the incident and in court when she gave evidence, her evidence could not be relied upon as it was lacking, contradictory and not credible,” the judge said.