August 15: Update re Dewani murder trial in Cape Town
South African accused pleads not guilty in slaying
Associated Press, By YAZEED KAMALDIEN,
Updated 9:44 a.m., Wednesday, August 15, 2012
CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — The South African man accused of shooting a Swedish bride to death on her honeymoon plead not guilty to charges he faced in a trial that began Wednesday.
Xolile Mngeni faces charges of murder, kidnapping, robbery and the possession of an illegal firearm and illegal ammunition over the November 2010 death of 28-year-old Anni Dewani. Prosecutors say Mngeni was hired by Dewani’s British husband to carry out the killing.
Mngeni, who had surgery in June 2011 to remove a brain tumor, has suffered seizures and black outs and has troubles remembering things, said his lawyer Qalisile Dayimani on Monday. His poor health has slowed his trial, but he said he was ready for trial and showed up in a Cape Town court on Wednesday and covered his head with a jacket.
“The state has to prove everything. So we’ll have to go through all the motions,” said Judge Robert Henney, who presided over the first day of the trial at the Western Cape High Court. He then added: “It will be a long process. Are you ready for that?”
Mngeni said, “That’s correct.”
State prosecutor Shireen Riley said she’d be calling at least 16 witnesses in the trial.
Last week, Mngeni’s alleged accomplice Mziwamadoda Qwabe pleaded guilty to charges over the killing, receiving a 25-year prison sentence. Zola Tongo, the taxi driver that police say husband Shrien Dewani asked to plot the killing, earlier pleaded guilty to charges over the slaying and received an 18-year prison sentence. Both Tongo and Qwabe have said Dewani wanted it to look like he wasn’t involved his wife’s slaying and they planned to have the attack look like a car hijacking in Cape Town’s impoverished Gugulethu township.
Qwabe said that after he and Mngeni staged the fake car hijacking, he drove the car as Mngeni kept a 7.62 mm pistol pointed at Anni Dewani in the backseat and then pulled the trigger, the fatal shot going through her neck, Qwabe’s statement read. Panicked, Qwabe said he stopped the car and got out, helping Mngeni find the spent bullet casing. He threw the casing into a sewer as they ran away into the night.
Officials at first thought the crime was robbery in South Africa, where violent crime is high but attacks on foreign tourists are rare.
A new witness on Wednesday, who testified anonymously as part of a deal with the state, said that he helped connect Tongo with a hit man. The witness worked at a hotel in Cape Town and his job was to arrange transportation and tours for guests. He said he had often referred guests to Tongo on a commission basis since 2007. The witness then said that Tongo said he had met Shrien Dewani at the airport.
“He said this gentleman is not from South Africa. And that he has done this before. He said we should pretend that this person (Anni Dewani) was hijacked,” the witness said.
Dewani has denied he hired anyone to kill his wife and was allowed by authorities to leave South Africa for the United Kingdom, where he was later arrested. In March, a U.K. High Court ruled that it would be “unjust and oppressive” to extradite Dewani to South Africa, as his mental condition had worsened since his arrest there. Dewani’s lawyer told the court in a hearing July 31 that he needed at least a year to recover from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder before being potentially sent back to South Africa.
The trial is set to continue Thursday.