In a dramatic turn of events the South Gauteng High Court acquitted the four police officers accused of being behind the murder of Mthokozisi Ntumba.
Ntumba was shot dead during a protest by Wits University students on March 10 last year. He died just after stepping out of his doctor's room.
The police officers were also accused of attempted murder in relation to other students who sustained injuries.
Delivering a lengthy judgment, Judge Mawabo Malangeni told the court the state had not presented sufficient and tangible evidence linking the four police officers to Ntuba's murder. Malangeni criticised essential elements of the state’s evidence.
He said the state relied on video footage which did not clearly show the officers shooting Ntumba.
There was no link to the ammunition that the four officers used to the bullet shells found near Ntumba’s body. There was also no witness who saw the four pointing a firearm and shooting Ntumba.
The judge described the evidence presented by the state as circumstantial.
“It is not permissible in terms of the law to refuse a Section 174 application in the hope that an accused person will incriminate himself or herself. In essence the state’s case should stand on its own without being assisted ...by the defence’s evidence,” he said.
Malangeni said courts did not make their decision based on public opinion or on media reports.
“I therefore issue the following order: the application in terms of Sections 174 of the Criminal Procedures Act 51 of 1977 is granted. All accused persons are found not guilty and discharged in respects of all counts,” Malangeni said.
National Prosecutions Authority (NPA) spokesperson Phindi Louw said the NPA would study the judgment before making further pronouncements.
“The judge ruled that there is insufficient evidence upon which a court acting carefully may convict and therefore has acquired all the accused of all the charges,” Louw said.
The four police officers seemed jovial after the ruling, with their lawyers saying the judgment is a victory for justice. The officers said they were happy to be cleared.
A spokesperson for the Ntumba family, Ayanda Ntumba, said the family was shocked and disappointed at the judgment. “The captain pointed at them and said it was them so I don’t understand how the court says they are not guilty,” Ntumba said.
The family is considering a civil suit, added Ayanda.