By Gill Gifford and Alex Eliseev

In a shock about-turn, convicted killer Donovan Moodley on Friday claimed he did not kill Leigh Matthews and now intends asking for a retrial.

He contended that he was framed and would plead not guilty to all three of the charges against him if a new hearing was granted.

Moodley said he wanted to come clean on "my role in this disgusting, horrible and sadistic crime".

He said the crime scene at which Leigh's body was found was "recreated" and "staged to lead back to me".

Moodley claimed that the "men who killed Miss Leigh Matthews are dangerous and I believe my family, Yeshika Singh and I need to be protected by the state".

Singh was Moodley's fiancée at the time of his arrest.

Moodley was convicted of kidnapping Matthews, extorting R50 000 from her family as ransom money and then shooting her dead.

In August he was sentenced to life in prison for murder, 10 years for kidnapping and an additional five years for extortion.

Less than two weeks later he informed the Johannesburg High Court he wished to file an application to appeal against his sentence.

The matter was to be heard on Thursday, but was postponed to on Friday after Moodley asked to be allowed to attend a graduation ceremony for a gender violence course he had successfully completed.

Ahead of the hearing, Leigh's father Rob Matthews described Moodley's behaviour as manipulative.

"For someone who spent 25 years living in a Christian household without learning any values, what on earth could he be taught in a two-week course? Please don't pretend it's part of the rehabilitation. It's insulting the integrity of people in South Africa," he said.

Once inside court Moodley continued to be unpredictable, opting not to file his application but to withdraw it, claiming: "I am now convinced that I am in a very strong position to overwhelmingly disprove the state's case against me."

Wearing bright orange overalls emblazoned with the black "Prisoner" logo, designer takkies and leg shackles, Moodley appeared calm and composed.

Seven armed members of Correctional Service's Emergency Support Team stood guard. One, armed with a rifle, stood facing the court, shielding Moodley with his body.

Moodley pulled out a hand mirror and groomed his facial hair just before court went into session.

"Good morning, my Lord," he said, addressing Judge Joop Labuschagne before asking to read his handwritten statement.

He told the court he had found it difficult to represent himself in court as prison authorities had not allowed him access to computers and photocopiers.

Prosecutor Zaais van Zyl undertook to ensure that Moodley, who indicated that he intended to conduct his own defence in future, would be given what he needed.

Investigating officer Superintendent Piet Byleveld, who has continued to work on the case after Labuschagne ruled that Moodley could not possibly have acted alone, said he had not been surprised by the claims of the pastor's son.

"I was expecting something like this. What can I say? I am just going to continue with my job," he said.

Once the brief appearance was over and the public filed out of the gallery, Sharon and Karen Matthews - Leigh's mom and sister - stayed behind.

They were visibly shaken, apparently battling to deal with the new developments.

Van Zyl explained that the next hurdle for Moodley would be to have his guilty plea set aside as he had now withdrawn his application to appeal against sentence.

"The court will have to consider three things (when deciding to grant a retrial). Firstly, why the information was not presented in court the first time round.

"Secondly, whether there is a possibility that this information is true. Thirdly, what effect this information will have," Van Zyl said.

Moodley will now have to submit a full application with supporting evidence. It won't be handled this year.

Asked whether he had been expecting something like this, Van Zyl responded: "I did not think it was impossible. I was happy with how things went up until now, but from here on ... who knows?

"My sympathy is with the (Matthews) family. They will have to go through a lot of pain."