Psychiatric evaluation for KZN man accused of dumping woman's body in an abandoned building
Durban - The man accused of kidnapping, raping and killing 22-year-old Tongaat woman Komell Pillay in 2019, will undergo a psychiatric assessment before he stands trial. This is to determine if he was of sound mind at the time of the incident.
Siphiwe Mthembu, 21, appeared in the Durban High Court on Monday for the start of trial but the matter was adjourned pending a report on his mental capacity.
He was arrested after Pillay’s half-naked body was found in an abandoned building a few roads away from her home on July 7, 2019. It is alleged that she was kidnapped from a local tavern and taken to a derelict site on Watson Highway where she was raped and then strangled.
On Monday, advocate Thiagaraj Pillay, a Legal Aid counsel for the accused, requested that the matter be adjourned following information that his client was on psychiatric medication. Pillay said while liaising with Mthembu in the court prison cells, a fellow cellmate told him that his client was on medication. He said when he questioned Mthembu, he confirmed this.
“The accused is taking some sort of medication for his mind. He confirmed that he takes medication once a week, which is prescribed by the doctor at the Westville Prison hospital,” said Pillay.
He subsequently asked the court for permission for Mthembu to consult with a psychiatrist.
“This is to assess if he was able to distinguish right from wrong in accordance with his actions. The second aspect of the inquiry would be on whether he would be able to follow court proceedings based on his mental capacity. Once we secure that report, we can decide how to set the matter down.”
Advocate Krishen Shah, a State advocate, said he was ready to proceed with the trial and that his witnesses were ready to testify.
“I came prepared with an exhibit bundle," said Shah.
He said Mthembu only began taking medication in 2020.
“It would mean it only took place after the incident,” said Judge Mahendra Chetty.
Shah said should the assessment go ahead, he expected it would take six to nine months. He said the necessary forms needed to be filled out and then they had to wait for the Department of Justice to allocate a bed for the accused.
Judge Chetty said a preliminary assessment could take place at Westville Prison to speed up the process but later ruled that the assessment needed to be conducted.
“This is in light of the concerns expressed by the accused’s counsel of which the State is unable to refute. The court, as a matter of extreme caution, makes an order in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act for the referral of the accused to a clinical psychologist and other medical professionals.
“This is to determine whether the accused was of sound mental capacity to appreciate his actions and consequences thereof. It is also to determine whether the accused is of sound mental capacity to appreciate the nature of the court proceedings and to liaise with his counsel.”
The matter was adjourned to a provisional date and the accused was remanded in custody.
According to the indictments, Pillay was unemployed and lived in Belvedere.
Mthembu was employed as a casual worker by the owner of a property in Brake Village where he lived.
It is alleged that Pillay was socialising with friends at a local nightclub on Saturday, July 6, 2019. She allegedly left the nightclub alone early on July 7, 2019, and proceeded to Dan’s Tavern.
“Sometime thereafter, the accused arrived at the bar, grabbed the deceased and left the tavern with the deceased against her will. The accused took the deceased to an abandoned derelict house on Watson Highway, Tongaat, where he assaulted the deceased and had sexual intercourse with her against her will. Thereafter, he strangled the deceased, injuring her fatally,” the indictment read.
Mthembu fled and was later arrested.
According to the post-mortem, the cause of death was two-fold. One was ischaemic heart disease, which means that the heart was not getting enough oxygen, and the second was manual strangulation.
The abandoned building where Pillay’s body was found was destroyed weeks later. Members of the community said that over time, the building had become a haven for criminal activity.