Pretoria - The High Court in Pretoria on Wednesday set aside the conviction and life sentence of a former Bronkhorstspruit liquor shop manager found guilty of killing his wife.
Judge Hans Fabricius lashed out at police for their failure to properly investigate the murder.
In 2012, Albert van Vuuren, 45, was found guilty by another high court of murdering his wife Monica.
“It is often notable in court that the police provide tremendous resources and effort for certain cases, whereas a case such as the present received scant attention,” Fabricius said.
“In this case it is a sad reflection on the police force that they obviously dismally failed in their statutory duties,” Fabricius said.
Monica van Vuuren died on her kitchen floor in July 2010 after being stabbed 25 times. She had a broken neck and jaw.
According to pathologists her death was caused by a spinal injury and stab wounds to both sides of her chest which penetrated her heart and caused her lungs to collapse.
She was stabbed six more times after she died.
Van Vuuren testified that he had no recollection of the events of that night after using alcohol and a tranquilliser.
The trial court accepted the evidence of Van Vuuren's friend Gordon McCullum that Van Vuuren was aggressive that night and later woke him up saying he had killed his wife.
McCullum's jacket was full of blood, but he lied to a policeman, saying Van Vuuren had worn the jacket, Fabricius said.
McCullum admitted to suffering from bipolar disorder, being in and out of psychiatric hospitals and regularly mixing alcohol with his psychiatric medication.
Van Vuuren only had a small spot of his wife's blood on his jeans. The blood-stained jacked worn by McCullum was “for some inexplicable reason” never examined. Nor was there any explanation who had moved it from the main bedroom to the kitchen.
The police did not preserve the crime scene and no forensic investigation of any kind was conducted on the scene, which “astounding failure” was never explained.
Someone partially cleaned the crime scene during the night after Van Vuuren was arrested and removed R13,000 from a kitchen cupboard. This was never explained.
Fabricius said it was never explained how one small blood stain was found on the assailant's jeans, given the victim's injuries.
Evidence by the State's forensic expert and common sense excluded the probability that Van Vuuren inflicted the injuries on his wife, he added.
He said McCullum was a single witness and could not be described as a reliable person, let alone a reliable witness.
Van Vuuren not only denied telling anyone he had killed his wife, but two witnesses testified that he had been heavily under the influence of alcohol and could not speak coherently.
The murder weapon was never found and the blood on a knife in the kitchen was not Monica van Vuuren's.
Wounds to Van Vuuren's head and hand and his statement that he had been attacked “should have rung cathedral bells”, but remained unexplored, Fabricius said.
Van Vuuren was out on bail pending appeal, but spent over a year in custody while awaiting trial.