Durban - Pietermaritzburg advocate Addelaid Ferreira-Watt was killed after a shotgun being exhibited as evidence allegedly fell and shot her at point-blank range in court.
Ferreira-Watt, 51, screamed in agony when she was knocked off her feet by the shot which blew a gaping hole in her left hip on Monday.
Horrified staff at the Umzimkhulu Court rushed to her aid and tried to stop the bleeding as an ambulance sped to the scene.
But the mother-of-one was later pronounced dead in hospital despite the efforts of paramedics. It is thought that the blast severed an artery and she bled to death.
KZN police are treating the incident as culpable homicide and seeking to find out why the shotgun was entered as evidence while still fully loaded.
A legal friend of the highly respected prosecutor said: “There is absolutely no need for a weapon being submitted in evidence in a court of law to still be capable of being fired.
“The weapon and the ammunition that it had contained at the time of the alleged crime should have been submitted in separate evidence bags, so someone is in big trouble.
“Addelaid was an excellent lawyer and a devoted mother and a lover of art and animals, and for her to be taken away so cruelly and in such a freakish way is just agonising.”
Police spokesperson Brigadier Jay Naicker said: “It’s alleged on Monday at 3.20pm a 51-year-old woman was taken to hospital after she was struck by a shot to the left hip.
“She later died in hospital. It’s alleged that the weapon was brought to court to be entered as evidence in a house robbery case when it accidentally discharged in court.”
It is thought the gun was dropped or fell over and a shot went off, hitting the state prosecutor in the hip.
The KwaZulu-Natal Director of Public Prosecutions, Elaine Zungu, said: “It is with great sadness that I inform you of the passing of senior state advocate Addelaid Ferreira-Watt.
“Her untimely passing is mourned by all, and our thoughts and prayers are with her family during this difficult time. The family have requested their privacy to be respected.”
Ferreira-Watt’s sister-in-law, Antoinette Ferreira, said on her Facebook page: “Addelaid died yesterday after being shot in court working as a state advocate. Thank you all for your prayers.
“A loving and caring mother, a loyal and dear friend, an incredibly smart, intelligent, dynamic resilient and beautiful woman. You filled my life with love and humour.
“We are so shocked you have been taken away in such a terrible way from your loved ones. A lot of strength to you, Lindsay - your mother loved you so much.”
A police officer, who asked not to be named, said that the firearm should have never been loaded, “especially at this stage of the case”.
He explained that when a firearm was recovered from a crime scene, it should have been made safe at the scene.
“If not there, then the investigating officer would have taken it for ballistics and the firearm would have been made safe there.
“We don’t know if this firearm had been taken for ballistics. If not, why not? If it was, then ballistics would have to answer as to why the firearm was still loaded,” the officer said.
He added that a shotgun could not be placed in an exhibit bag as it was too big, so it had to always be handled with care.
While news of Ferreira-Watt’s death spread, her Facebook profile was flooded with messages of condolence.
Lee Crosby said: “This is so very sad and my heart goes out to all who loved and knew her. A very special lady. RIP.”
A close friend, Emma McNally Jacobs, reminisced about Ferreira-Watt’s love for family, law and art.
“Will never forget your mischievous smile and laugh telling me stories at the Hilton Arts Festival about when you worked for my dad, Tim McNally at the AG’s office in PMB. You had me in absolute stitches!
“I am very saddened to hear this news and hope that my dad will be there to receive you and you can reminisce together. Sending lots of love to your family. Rest in peace,” Jacobs wrote.
KwaZulu-Natal Judge President Achmat Jappie said that Ferreira-Watt’s death was a huge loss to the prosecution and administration of justice.
“Her absence will be felt and I know that she will be sorely missed by all who knew her,” Judge Jappie said.
Chairperson of the KZN provincial Legal Practice Council, Asif Essa, expressed shock and sadness at Ferreira-Watt’s death. He said she was a well-known advocate in the province, having practised as a legal practitioner since 1987.
“The council conveys its sincere condolences to the Ferreira-Watt family, and to her friends and colleagues with whom she shared her life,” Essa said.