Durban - A policeman who turned armed robber and then killer, apparently to support an extravagant lifestyle he could not sustain on a constable’s salary, was sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment for murdering an alleged drug dealer.
Constable Austine Reynold, 24, from Umbilo SAPS, was found guilty in the Durban High Court last Friday of robbing and killing a Nigerian man, known only as “Frank” at a house in Umbilo in January last year.
Judge Shyam Gyanda sentenced Reynold to 25 years for the murder and 15 years for robbery on Monday.
However, 10 years of each robbery sentence would run concurrently with the murder sentence, meaning he would serve 30 years.
Reynold had testified that he and friend Brindley Barlow had consumed cocaine at the house in Umbilo. They then went to a garage to withdraw cash to pay Frank and, when they returned, Barlow went inside to pay him. Reynold said he heard Barlow calling out for help, ran inside and saw that Frank and another man had him pinned down.
After initially drawing his service weapon, Reynold put it away and tried to handcuff Frank, but he resisted and they wrestled over the firearm. He said Barlow grabbed the cocked gun and used it to strike Frank on his head. This triggered the shot that penetrated the back of Frank’s head.
However, Barlow, who testified for the State and was indemnified from prosecution, said he knew they were going to the house to buy drugs, but the developments had left him shocked.
His evidence was corroborated by witnesses who were robbed of cellphones and money during the incident. Barlow was not armed and stood to one side as the robbery and murder unfolded.
Testifying in mitigation of sentence, Reynold’s uncle, Owen Francis, described Reynold as a “good young man and law-abiding citizen”. He said Reynold liked “nice things and fashion”.
State advocate Krishen Shah said Reynold lived beyond his means.
“He found himself in this situation through the choices he made. He went around robbing people so that he can have this flashy life,” he said.
Reynold’s friend, Sanele Sithebe, said he was shocked to hear that he was arrested for such a serious crime “because I knew him as a non-violent person who went to church”.
Judge Gyanda said the evidence showed that Reynold had not planned to shoot Frank, and that his death was a result of Reynold’s gross recklessness.
Len Barnabas John, the investigating officer from the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid), told the court that last year alone they dealt with over 700 cases of rape, murder and corruption charges against police officers.
He said Reynold had a previous conviction for corruption from June 2016, when he was sentenced to a 10-year term, suspended for 10 years, relating to an incident where he and two colleagues took a bribe from a motorist. John said Reynold was still a police officer pending the finalisation of the trial.
Reynold’s lawyer, Sizwe Masondo, said he was on unpaid suspension.
Masondo asked the court to have mercy and deviate from the prescribed life imprisonment term.
“I ask that the court considers that he is still young - he was 22 when the offences were committed. I ask that we do not turn our backs on him, but give him a chance,” he said.
Barthelomew Eziagulu, provincial chairperson of the Nigeria Citizens Association in South Africa, said they were happy with the sentence.
He said a Nigerian national who was to give evidence in the trial had gone missing.
“We are appealing for the police to investigate this because we fear that the worst has happened to him. We have looked everywhere without success.”