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Delays in Saunders murder trial: Defence needs more time but State is ready

Rod and Rachel Saunders spent three days filming in the Drakensberg with Robin Matthews, his Big Banana Films crew and BBC’s Gardeners’ World presenter Nick Bailey ​before disappearing into thin air. Picture: Robin Matthews/Facebook

Rod and Rachel Saunders spent three days filming in the Drakensberg with Robin Matthews, his Big Banana Films crew and BBC’s Gardeners’ World presenter Nick Bailey ​before disappearing into thin air. Picture: Robin Matthews/Facebook

Published May 18, 2022

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Durban: For the third-consecutive day, the case involving the State versus the three people accused of kidnapping and murdering Rodney and Rachel Saunders in 2018, was delayed in the Durban High Court.

Accused one and two, Sayefundeen Aslam Del Vecchio, 39, and his wife, Bibi Fatima Patel, 28, are charged with kidnapping, robbery and murder.

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Accused three, Mussa Ahmed Jackson, 35, a Malawian national, faces the same charges.

Although they pleaded not guilty on Wednesday, there were further delays in the case on the part of the defence.

NPA spokesperson Natasha Ramkissoon-Kara said Judge Sharmane Balton postponed the case until Thursday after the accused told the court they wanted to dispute the evidence the State was going to present.

But the accused didn’t know that they had jumped the gun. Judge Balton had to inform them that the State had not presented any evidence yet, meaning there was nothing to dispute.

Kara-Ramkissoon said the court “gave them a lengthy explanation” about why they could not dispute the evidence.

She said the State had been ready to proceed with the case on Monday. The case had been set to run from May 16 until June 17, 2022.

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“The accused were asked to tender their plea and they pleaded not guilty and the matter was set to proceed as the State was about to call its first witness, when the accused addressed the court saying that they wanted to dispute some evidence and wanted to hold a trial within the trial.

“It was explained at length to the accused that there was a system in the way evidence works but they were not pleased with the response,” Ramkissoon-Kara said.

The defence had asked for an extension twice before Wednesday’s request.

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Del Vecchio and his wife Patel have their own attorney, Bulelani Mazomba, while Jackson, a Malawian national, has his own.

The three accused allegedly kidnapped and murdered Rodney, 72, and his wife, Dr Rachel Saunders, 63, in the Eshowe area, western KZN, in 2018. Both victims sustained blunt force trauma.

The couple were believed to be botanists and were last seen on February 10 near Bivane Dam on the outskirts of Vryheid in northern KZN. It is believed that they travelled in a Toyota Land Cruiser to film a documentary.

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Rod and Rachel Saunders spent three days filming in the Drakensberg with Robin Matthews, his Big Banana Films crew and BBC’s Gardeners’ World presenter Nick Bailey ​before disappearing into thin air. Picture: Robin Matthews/Facebook

The State's case against the trio suggests that they were killed at or near the Ngoye forest area in the magisterial district of Eshowe between February 10 and 15, 2018.

Del Vecchio and Patel were arrested on February 15 in 2018. Jackson was apprehended on March 23, later that year.

Investigators found that the three accused used Rachel Saunders’s bank card for several purchases on February 13.

Her bank account had been linked a cellphone and therefore police were able to analyse the GPS locations and place Del Vecchio and Dr Saunders at Ngoye forest on February 10.

The three were also accused of having links to the Islamic State.

IOL

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