How Leigh Matthews was murdered

Donovan Moodley was found guilty in the Johannesburg High Court on Monday for kidnapping and murdering student Leigh Matthews and for extorting money from her parents.

Shortly after Moodley pleaded guilty to the three charges, Judge Joop Labuschagne said: “It is clear that the accused admits all elements of the three charges. I find the accused guilty as charged.”

Earlier, Moodley had replied “guilty” when asked how he pleaded on each of the three charges relating to the death of the 21-year-old Bond University student on July 9 last year.

Moodley was clean-shaven, wore a dark suit and carried a green bag with him. Supporting him were his Baptist minister father Stephen Moodley, sister Michal and fiancée Yeshika Singh.

At first, he sat with his eyes ahead and appeared composed.
Before Judge Labuschagne entered, he stood up and slowly surveyed the packed courtroom.

When asked to plead, he whispered into the microphone, as if he did not have the strength to speak loudly.

In his statement, read by advocate Johan Pretorius and signed by Moodley in court, he gave a detailed account of how he planned and executed the kidnapping and murder.

“I didn’t know what to do. I was scared there were roadblocks. I didn’t want to get caught.”

In another revelation, he said he retrieved Leigh’s ring from a pile of burnt clothes with the intention of sending it in an envelope to her parents, Rob and Sharon Matthews.

His statement said: “I didn’t know her. My impression of the students in Bond University [from where she was kidnapped] was that they all came from wealthy families.”

He confirmed that after toying with the idea, he approached her in the parking lot and, under the pretext of asking for a lift, drove out with her.

He spent the majority of July 9 in Walkerville, south of Johannesburg, and had agreed to the R50 000 ransom drop-off after Leigh told him “my parents are not that wealthy”.

After the drop-off, Moodley said: “I drove around for a while and thought about how to release her. I did not know what to do, I could see no other way out but to kill her.”

So, he drove back to Walkerville.

He said after shooting her in the back of the head, he spent the night at the Formula 1 hotel. The following day he returned to the Walkerville site, burning all his and her clothes to destroy all possible evidence.

A few weeks later, he returned once again after remembering that Leigh had a ring in her pocket.

“I wanted to return the ring to her parents and write them a letter. Before I could write the letter, I was arrested.”

Leigh’s body was found on July 21 by a grass cutter.

The prosecution did not dispute any of the facts, but will try to prove that he also froze her body and staged the scene of the murder.

He has not admitted to those two allegations. He said his motive was to extort money.

After being found guilty, Moodley, leaving the court in his shackles, began to cry.

He paused to hold hands with his father, who had sat through the verdict with his eyes closed, and began sobbing.

Moodley stumbled down the stairs as he visibly lost all his strength and when approached by the media, a woman next to his weeping father said: “We won’t be commenting.”

His fiancée was also in tears.

After the court was adjourned, Leigh’s mother, Sharon, assured her friends and family: “I am under control, I am fine.”

Her father, Rob, said they will speak more on Tuesday but “need some time”.

Giselle Clemson, Leigh’s best friend, held their daughter Karen’s hand as she too sobbed.

It was Giselle’s birthday on Monday, but she said there was no other way she would want to spend it this year.

Original investigating officer Gabriel Hall also attended the proceedings and said he was relieved at the outcome.

Moodley returns to court on Tuesday for argument in mitigation of sentencing.—Sapa

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