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Durban man cleared of his friend’s murder

Ashen Vishnudath. Picture: Supplied

Ashen Vishnudath. Picture: Supplied

Published Jun 2, 2022


Durban: The man accused of robbing and killing a Reservoir Hills mechanic was found not guilty in the Durban High Court last week.

Ashen Vishnudath, 29, of Stanton Street, was charged with the murder of 30-year-old Navendran Govender in 2019.

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Govender, a self-employed mechanic and car restoration specialist, ran a home based business in Orleans Place, Reservoir Hills.

At the start of the trial, the State alleged that Govender often had large amounts of cash and due to this, Vishnudath devised a plan to rob and kill him.

It was alleged that Vishnudath fetched Govender from his home, shot him three times, and disposed of his body by throwing it off Giba Gorge in Marianhill on March 6, 2019.

According to the post mortem results, Govender died from a perforating gunshot wound to the head.

Apart from the murder charge, Vishnudath was also charged with robbery with aggravating circumstances, unlawful possession of a firearm and ammunition, fraud and escaping from lawful custody.

The father of one pleaded not guilty to all the charges except escaping from lawful custody.

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Vishnuduth admitted that on August 15, 2019, he escaped from the Westville Correctional Services Centre, while awaiting trial.

He said he became acquainted with another prisoner and realised the man was unable to pay his bail. Vishnudath then requested the fellow prisoner’s personal details and made a prison card to use as a means to escape.

Vinshudath, who was represented by attorney Ravindra Maniklall, denied that he intentionally killed Govender. He said he had acted in self-defence at all times.

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Navendran Govender.

Judge Jacqueline Henriques, in handing down judgment last Wednesday, found Vishnudath not guilty of murder, robbery with aggravating circumstances, fraud, and unlawful possession of ammunition.

She, however, found him guilty of unlawful possession of a firearm and escaping from lawful custody.

Judge Henriques said she had carefully considered and analysed the evidence of all the witnesses who testified.

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“I have considered the probabilities and improbabilities, bearing in mind that throughout this matter the onus rests on the State to prove the guilt of the accused on all counts beyond a reasonable doubt.

“In doing so, I did not lose sight of the fact that there is no onus on the accused to prove his innocence and once his version is reasonably possibly true, he is entitled to the benefit of the doubt. I have come to my decision based on an evaluation and consideration of the evidence in its entirety."

On the murder charge, she said that in her view the evidence did not support any finding of guilt based on dolus eventualis (intention).

“ Once the court accepts that the accused acted in self-defence, that is the end of the matter and he is entitled to an acquittal."

In her closing remarks, Judge Hendriques said the matter had resulted in losses to two families.

Referring to Govender’s family, she said a beloved son, a breadwinner, was taken in the prime of his life from his parents and partner. She said another family (Vishnudath’s family) was devastated knowing that he died at the hands of their son.

“No one's lives will be the same again."

Looking at Govender's father, Sam, Judge Hendriques said: "To the Govender family, uncle Sam, if I may call you that, you have attended every day of the court’s sittings and I have watched the pain and agony on your face as you hear the evidence unfold as to what happened on the day your son met his untimely death.

“I know that for you it is a simple matter of ‘my son died Mam and the accused shot him’. But I have to apply the law to the facts. I have no doubt that something happened and while I do not believe that the accused has told the court the truth, that is not the test which I have to apply in finding him guilty.

“I am certain that you and your family will feel hard done by the judgment but I hope, given time, you will appreciate that our justice system, whilst it may not seem fair to you, operates on the application of strict legal principles."

Judge Hendriques told Vishnudath she did not believe he had told the court the truth or that he was not responsible for intentionally killing Govender.

“But that you are a liar is not a reason to find you guilty. You will have to live with the knowledge every day for the rest of your life that someone, who you profess to have been a friend, died at your hand. That you deprived uncle Sam and his wife of a beloved son.

“I have also observed your father during these proceedings and have no doubt both he and you know the truth of what happened. But he too loves you, his son, and has done everything he can with the available resources to assist you. He too will have to live with knowing what you have done. I hope that you will not disappoint him again."

She said the findings in this judgment did not reflect on the manner of the police investigation or prosecution, but rather how the justice system and legal system does work.

“Uncle Sam, I hope you will continue to believe in our system of law and find peace with the court’s ruling…”

Sam Govender told POST that he felt cheated.

"My family has been cheated and my son. The justice system may have failed us, but karma won't.”

Raj Vishnudath, Ashen’s father, said: “We are relieved that the trial is over, but we feel for the other family, his parents. As a parent, I can understand what they are going through. I pray to God every day to have some relief and for them to be able to heal in time.

“While the case may be over, we will never forget this. It was always in the back of our heads, but we wish to move forward now. We are also thankful to Mr Maniklall, who has been a good support system to our family."

The matter was adjourned to later this week for sentencing proceedings. Vishnudath was remanded in prison custody.

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