The Northern Cape High Court in Kimberley has cleared a man who served over 17 years in prison after he was sentenced to life in prison for allegedly killing his father in July 2004.
George Robertson was 24-years-old when he was sentenced in April 2006.
He was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder and 10 years imprisonment for robbery with aggravating circumstances.
His sentencing came after he was found guilty of murder with the direct intention to kill his father, Werner Rolf Heinze, on July 22, 2004.
The trial court found that his father reduced his son’s benefits because he stole from his business.
It was also heard that after the murder, he allegedly stole his father’s vehicle and set it alight.
During the trial, it was said that there was substantial evidence that he had been planning to kill his father for two years prior to his execution.
Eight days after his sentence, on May 2, 2006, he brought a handwritten application for condonation and leave to appeal. Unfortunately, the documents went missing in the registrar’s office, and he was directed to file another appeal.
He filed another appeal in October 2006.
Ten years later, in March 2016, his matter had still not been heard and he wrote to the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) complaining about the delay of his appeal.
His appeal was eventually heard in September 2017, and the court reasoned that his application had no merit and dismissed it.
Unhappy with the outcome, Robertson successfully petitioned the SCA and was granted another hearing by a full court, which was heard in February 2023.
During the new hearing, Judge J Williams, who delivered the judgment, said the conviction and the sentence imposed on Robertson were an infringement on his rights to a fair trial, including a fair appeal.
Williams said records of the trial proceedings were inadequate as some documents were missing and some recordings were inaudible because there was a mechanical breakdown in the recording.
The judge said evidence from 13 witnesses could not be retrieved or reconstructed.
"This, in my view, creates a major stumbling block in accepting the available record as adequate to adjudicate the appeal properly,” Williams said.
Williams also said there was a long delay in the hearing of the appeal.
“No explanation could be given for the delay in the prosecution of this appeal, despite the appellant’s endeavours over the years to have his appeal heard.
‘The delay is not only regrettable, but for the appellant, who has been incarcerated since his arrest during 2004, the inordinate delay in finalising this matter has infringed upon his right.”
The judge said the only evidence available before them that could possibly connect Robertson to the murder was that of Betty van Wyk, who testified that Robertson expressed his desire to kill his father two years prior to the murder.
“This incident, so remote in time to the murder of the deceased, in my view does not constitute sufficient circumstantial evidence to dispel any reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the appellant as far as the murder charge is concerned,” said Williams.
Robertson’s convictions and sentence were set aside.