The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is deciding whether to recharge a convicted murderer after he was released by the Constitutional Court.
In a majority judgment written by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, the Constitutional Court ordered the immediate release of Klaas Lesetja Phakane from prison after it found that the absence of key witness evidence against him was key to the accused successfully appealing his conviction and sentence.
Phakane has been in jail since 2006 after he was convicted for the murder of his girlfriend Matilda Chuence Boshomane.
He was sentenced to 20 years for the crime.
Boshomane’s decomposed body was found in a veld. She was last seen on 19 or 20 August 2006, following an apparent argument with Phakane.
The cause of her death could not be determined due to the level of the decomposition of her body.
The North Gauteng High Court judgment said that another woman, who was also Phakane’s girlfriend at the time, Martha Manamela, gave the police a statement in which she said Phakane had visited her on 20 August. She made her statement on 2 September 2006.
Manamela told the police Phakane had told her he had a fight with Boshomane and that he assaulted her with a waist belt.
She said Phakane admitted to leaving Boshomane in a veld, adding that he told her he had returned to Boshomane’s home the following day but that she was not there. He also told her Boshomane was not in the veld, where he had left her, either.
Phakane was arrested and subsequently charged with assault and murder, where he pleaded not guilty to both charges.
The state’s case against him was largely based on circumstantial evidence and his alleged confession to Manamela.
He was then convicted and sentenced to 20 years in a largely circumstantial case.
His appeal against his sentence and conviction was dismissed by the North Gauteng High Court after it found that the absence of a key witness’s evidence and transcripts was not detrimental to him successfully appealing his case.
The full bench found that the absence of Manamela’s transcript was not such that the court could not fairly determine the appeal.
Phakane then turned to the Constitutional Court seeking to overturn the decision.
His lawyer told the court that the absence of such key evidence meant that Phakane’s appeal could not be determined fairly. He argued that this was an infringement of his right to a fair appeal, therefore his conviction and sentence should be set aside.
In a majority judgment, the Constitutional Court said Manamela’s evidence in court was critical to his conviction by the trial court and, without the transcript of that evidence, the appeal could not be fair.
Therefore, he should be released from prison immediately.
The judgment said that, while there was no longer sufficient evidence to convict Phakane of murder, there was still evidence from Phakane’s mother’s testimony that implicated him, leaving the possibility of the NPA to recharge him.