Johannesburg - Joburg businessman Dieter Bergs spent a year being accused of murdering his wife in what he’d insisted was a home invasion – before his lawyers proved that the police ballistic tests were wrong.
On Monday, charges against Bergs were withdrawn in the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court.
Now the SAPS faces questions not only around the reliability of its ballistics laboratory but also over whether it deliberately covered up the botched job.
The police didn’t respond to questions on this on Monday.
“The damage and defamation done as a result of that has been horrific,” said Bergs, who turns 80 on Sunday.
Geneé Bergs, 70, was shot dead in bed in their Parktown North home in March last year. They had been married for 15 years.
Bergs told police he had been in the study and his wife was asleep when he heard two loud bangs. When he went to investigate, he saw an intruder. He ran after the man and was shot in the hip.
There were two guns in the house, both 7.65mm pistols – one that Bergs had borrowed from a friend for protection and was kept next to the bed, and one he’d acquired legally in 1976, but had lost and forgotten about.
In late April last year, Geneé’s family found Bergs’s 1976 gun in the house and handed it to the police. SAPS forensic analyst Warrant Officer Thabo Seanego compared it to the two spent cartridges – a 7.65mm spent bullet and a fragment of a fired bullet jacket found at the murder scene. Seanego’s affidavit said that while the spent bullet and fragment couldn’t be linked to anything, the cartridge cases from the crime scene had been fired by Bergs’s gun.
Seanego’s report was the case against Bergs.
On September 23, Bergs was arrested and charged with his wife’s murder. He was released on bail of R10 000, and the next day, a gardener found a gun in the Bergs’s garden. This was the borrowed gun that was kept near the bed.
Seanego inspected this second gun and the crime scene evidence, and concluded that neither spent bullet nor fragment was fired from this gun.
But he didn’t mention the crucial evidence – the two spent cartridge cases.
Bergs’s lawyer, Joburg attorney Ian Small-Smith, a consultant to BDK Attorneys, brought in independent forensic ballistics expert Wollie Wolmarans.
After weeks of haggling with police, Wolmarans was able to get Bergs’s legal 1976 gun to compare with the crime scene exhibits, under the watch of police expert Lieutenant-Colonel Lucas Visser, who conducted his own tests.
Both Wolmarans and Visser unequivocally ruled out Bergs’s gun as the murder weapon.
“There was not even the faintest idea that these exhibits could have been fired from the same gun as in their tests and my tests. There were not even likenesses,” said Wolmarans. “It’s the worst I’ve ever had.”
Both also concluded that someone had tampered with the second firearm.
Wolmarans wasn’t allowed access to the second gun, but saw the spent cartridges from the tests on it, while Visser’s report lists six points of damage – in other words tampering – on that weapon.
That damage wasn’t in Seanego’s report.
“It wasn’t even mentioned that there was any damage to the gun. That’s why we say there was some cover-up,” said BDK attorney Johan Eksteen.
Wolmarans claimed the tampering was done by someone with more than a lay person’s knowledge.
BDK attorney Piet du Plessis said: “This could have had damning consequences for Dieter. Can you imagine if we still had the death penalty?
“The worst is that, having made the mistake, they kept quiet about it and it was left to us to discover.”
Bergs plans to move to the Cape.
“I lost my first wife after 37 years of marriage to cancer. I then married Geneé five years later. She has died. My daughter died five years ago. It has been a heavy time,” he said.
Bergs said he has survived due to his own “wonderful” family and friends, although Geneé’s family believed throughout that he was the killer and still don’t speak to him.
He doesn’t know if the police will ever find Geneé’s killer. “I hope they will.”