Retrial ordered for murder accused who represented himself
Share this article:
Pretoria - A murder accused who insisted that “the truth does not need any explanation” became fed-up after his State-instructed lawyer failed to pitch at his trial.
The man opted to defend himself, but soon discovered that this was not the best route for him to take.
Jan Bezuidenhout was sentenced in the Vosloorus Magistrate’s Court to 15 years’ imprisonment for shooting and killing cattle herdsman Bisani Tshukela.
Bezuidenhout told the court that while the bullet which took the life of Tshukela came from his firearm, he never meant to shoot him. He said the shot went off while the two of them struggled for the firearm.
According to Bezuidenhout, Tshukela was herding his cattle through his property. Bezuidenhout then fired several warning shots before Tshukela wrestled him for the firearm.
Bezuidenhout from the start of his court appearance refused to obtain the services of a lawyer, as he said he had nothing to hide.
He said: “I believe the court wants to determine the truth. I think for the truth I do not need anyone to speak on my behalf.”
The magistrate, however, urged him to obtain the services of a lawyer paid for by the State. She, however, only came to court once and was apparently ill on the other occasions.
After his 14th appearance in court, still without a lawyer, Bezuidenhout decided enough was enough. He again told the court he did not need anyone to speak for him.
He added: “I think my counsel will probably end up sick again when we have to start the proceedings again.
“I would ask the court to indulge me, that if that happens, let me rather speak the truth on my own behalf ... The truth does not need any explanation.”
But it turned out that it was not as simple as that.
Muzivukile Dumezweni, who was employed as a herdsman by the dead man, testified that the man was intentionally shot and killed by the appellant for no good reason. Dumezweni, however, did not see the actual shooting.
He said he was herding the cattle from behind, on a road running next to Bezuidenhout’s property, while Tshukela was leading them. The next moment he heard shots and saw the dead man on the ground.
Bezuidenhout, who had a gun with him, rushed Tshukela to hospital, where he was later arrested by the police.
Bezuidenhout, on the other hand, said he had warned the cattle herders for weeks prior to this not to let the cattle graze in his vegetable patch, but they would not listen.
This day, when he saw them coming again, he fired warning shots as they refused to leave. This, according to him, was when Tshukela tried to take the firearm from him and a shot went off.
The prosecution presented lengthy technical evidence regarding gunpowder residue in a bid to prove that there was no residue on the wound suffered by Tshukela. Thus, they argued, the shot was not fired from close range as claimed by Bezuidenhout.
As a layman regarding the law, Bezuidenhout could not refute this evidence in cross-examining the State’s experts. The magistrate also did not assist him in explaining his rights and that he could call his own expert witnesses.
The magistrate instead believed the state and convicted and sentenced Bezuidenhout to 15 years.
In applying for leave to appeal, Bezuidenhout obtained the services of a lawyer, who asked for the case to be reopened so that they could call expert witnesses. One was a land surveyor, who could allegedly prove that the property where the dead man was shot, belonged to Bezuidenhout.
The other was a ballistic expert, who said that because the dead man was wearing a T-shirt, gunshot residue would be found on the clothing rather than the skin. The police never bothered to forensically examine the T-shirt to see whether Bezuidenhout’s version of a close-range shot was true.
The magistrate refused to reopen the case. Bezuidenhout turned to the Supreme Court of Appeal, which found that he had an unfair trial. It was ordered that he had to be retried before a different magistrate.