Cape Town - A forensic investigator hired by Ashley Kriel’s family has concluded that the young Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) guerrilla was murdered by security police – something his family has said for years.
Respected forensic scientist David Klatzow had been working on the case for 29 years. But recent news of a documentary about Kriel’s life and death prompted him to release photographic evidence indicating the 20-year-old was murdered in July 1987, rather than accidentally shot.
Klatzow says he believes Kriel was shot from behind “from a distance” while his wrists were handcuffed behind his back.
“There is no question that Ashley was shot from a distance,” he told the Cape Argus on Thursday. “You put your hand behind your back and try and shoot yourself.”
Klatzow said the apartheid security police’s version of events, both in the court inquest and in statements made at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in the 1990s, were lies to cover up what really happened to the young activist at a house in Hazendal in Athlone on July 9, 1987.
Klatzow was employed by Kriel’s family shortly after his death to investigate the chain of events that led to the shooting.
Police officers had told the TRC Kriel was shot while resisting arrest and engaging in a scuffle with a security policeman.
In the course of the arrest, Kriel was said to have produced a .22 pistol.
Police captain Jeffrey Benzien, who was later granted amnesty for his involvement in the death, told the TRC he had tried to take the gun away from Kriel.
A scuffle ensued, during which Kriel was shot in the back. Benzien said the shot was fired from Kriel’s pistol.
Klatzow said it was impossible for Kriel to have shot himself in the scuffle as alleged by police. Instead, he said, the shooter must have stood at least two metres away when the fatal shot was fired.
In original crime scene photos in Klatzow’s possession, Kriel is seen lying dead in front of the Hazendal house with one of his wrists still handcuffed. The .22 pistol Kriel was said to have drawn on police and a Russian hand grenade were some of the items photographed by police forensic teams in 1987. Klatzow believes the hand grenade was planted at the scene.
Among other paraphernalia photographed at the scene was a copy of the Freedom Charter.
Klatzow said it was standard practice for security policemen to plant evidence at a crime scene to suggest terrorism.
In one of the pictures, Kriel was lying face down while Benzien pulled up his T-shirt to show the bullet wound. The picture clearly showed bruising to the left of the bullet wound, said Klatzow.
Klatzow said the size and nature of the entrance wound in Kriel’s back was consistent with a direct contact wound.
However, the blue tracksuit top Kriel had been wearing was inconsistent with a direct contact shot, suggesting that the shooter had been standing at a distance when he fired the fatal shot.
Klatzow said in an attempt to cover their tracks, the two policemen involved might have pressed the muzzle of the .22 revolver to Kriel’s back and fired a shot in the same wound the first bullet entered to widen the entry.
He said the marks around Kriel’s wrists indicated he had been handcuffed before his death.
“I have no doubt that Ashley was handcuffed when he was shot. There was no point handcuffing him after he was shot,” Klatzow said.
“Benzien lied about this, he lied about this at the inquest and at the TRC. I have given this evidence. Ashley was not served by justice and to a certain degree, he was let down by the TRC as well.”
Klatzow’s findings have sparked mixed emotions for Kriel’s sisters, Michel Assure and Melanie Adams, who are assessing their legal options.
Assure said the evidence had reopened old wounds.
“Benzien claimed he acted in the line of duty at the TRC and at the police inquest just after Ashley died,” said Assure.
“He showed no remorse for what he did and told the same lies.”
Assure said that if the family sought a re-investigation, she hoped justice would be served.
Attempts to reach Benzien for comment were unsuccessful.