CAPE TOWN - An expert who worked alongside the prosecution, appeals and investigation team in research into the Norman Afzal Simons’ case, says under current SA laws he wouldn’t have been convicted because of irregularities around the case.
Simons who was sentenced to life was released on parole this seek after spending 28-years in prison for the 1994 murder of 10-year-old Elroy van Rooyen. The Western Cape Correctional Services said he would spend the rest of his life under strict parole conditions.
He was accused of being the Station Strangler serial killer after the bodies of 22 boys were found in shallow graves in Cape Town between 1986 and 1994, but only convicted for the murder of Van Rooyen.
Professor Colin Tredoux of the Department of Psychology at the University of Cape Town, who has extensively researched the so-called Station Strangler case under the guidance of ‘The Innocence Project’ in the US, believes that both the eyewitness identification and the confession(s) in the Simons case were flawed.
Tredoux said, “Of the more than 370 mistaken convictions in the United States, the combination of mistaken eyewitness identification and false or pressured confessions has been one of the major sources of error.”
Simons conviction in 1995 hinged on eyewitness testimony, an ID parade, and a confession that was later retracted.
Tredoux said, “The law in SA was different, and there was a different police force.
“Comment on the Simons case is not a comment on current policing; our experience of working together with the current SAPS is quite different to what transpired in the Simons case. What happened in the Simons case would not be acceptable at all under the Constitution ratified after 1994.”
In 2006, Simons collapsed in the Mitchells Plain Magistrate’s Court after findings of an inquest into six young boys who were killed during the reign of the Station Strangler revealed that DNA, such as hair, semen and blood did not match him.
Magistrate Marilize Roller said in her view Simons might as well have been the Station Strangler.
A series of identikits were released by the police and a reward of R250 000 was offered.
Tredoux said there were inconsistencies in the case.
A woman had seen a man with a scar on his face, and an identikit released before his arrest showed the scar to be a long knife wound on the left side of the face while Simons had a scar on the right, under his eye.
“It should be mentioned that in the identikit portraits that were released prior to the arrest of Simons the person depicted there has what seems to be a long knife scar stretching from the upper cheek to the lower cheek on the left hand side, whereas Simons has a scar caused by a paraffin heater, we believe, just under his right eye. It is a circular type scar from what we can see.
Tredoux said the identity parade was also clouded, as Simons was the only one who was dressed differently and had the scar on his face.
“Simons appeared to be dressed quite differently to other members on the parade. He had mustard trousers on, and a floral shirt, other members were dressed plainly, with perhaps one exception,” he said.
“At the line-up, one witness was unable to identify Simons, and another was able to; after much thought, she remained dubious about the hairstyle of Simons.
“An important point about her identification is that she appears to choose the person most like the man she saw in the company of two young boys (and who presumably murdered one of the young boys), and this is something the judge notes with approval.”
Tredoux explained that Simons’ confession was not clear as he was deprived of sleep, was interrogated for days and may have been pressured, and he did not indicate if he had murdered anyone, only that he had heard voices telling him to kill.
“We would have expected the confession to detail who he killed, when, and how, and for all of these things to be stated explicitly.”
Charles Julies, a former police officer at the Mitchells Plain Police Station, who worked in the missing person’s unit, has called for Simons’ case to be reopened, in order for his parole period to be removed.
“A person can only appeal 14 days after sentencing and in his case when he appealed, his sentence was increased from 25 years to life,” said Julies.
“There was an inquest held which was finalised by Magistrate Roller, and to reopen this case there has to be new evidence such as DNA or a witness or a victim that comes forward.
“Police when they caught him, they already had a name, the Station Strangler. After those bodies were found five cases were unknown or unsolved, why did they continue to call him that when he was found guilty of only one murder?” he asked.