Petersen murder trial postponed to Wednesday

The trial of Najwa Petersen, accused of murdering her entertainer husband, Taliep, has been delayed yet again—this time by a clash over how much information she needs about the charges she faces.

The case got under way in the Cape High Court on Monday, but Judge Siraj Desai sat for less than two hours before postponing it to Wednesday.

As Petersen, in her customary dark glasses and headscarf, looked on impassively, her advocate, Klaus von Lieres und Wilkau told the judge that the further particulars the state had supplied were not “reasonably sufficient” for her to understand the case against her.

Though the defence had lodged two successive requests, information supplied by the state on key issues was vague, inadequate, confusing and, in some cases, even contradictory.

In answer to some questions, the state merely said details were “dependent on the admissibility of evidence”, or that they were “a matter for evidence”.

One of these issues was the state’s claim of common purpose in the killing—it claims she hired her three co-accused as hit men—and the other was the conspiracy alleged in the alternative to the main count.

There was legal authority, he said, that the state should set out what act each person was said to have committed.

The defence wanted to know when and where each of the accused joined the alleged conspiracy, and what their roles were; the state had not given this information.

“The accused is entitled to clear particulars, not vague and confusing particulars,” Von Lieres said.

“An accused can’t be left to the mercy of speculation to prepare his defence ... must he use a crystal ball if it’s not clear? It can’t work like that.”

He asked Desai to order that the state supply the missing detail.

Lead prosecutor Shareen Riley told Desai that despite a request to Petersen’s defence team for advance warning, she was advised of the application only on Monday, in the judge’s chambers.

She asked for a postponement so the prosecution could prepare a response, which Desai granted.

The trial was to have started on February 25, but was postponed because legal-aid authorities had only just appointed counsel for one of Petersen’s co-accused, Jefferson Snyders.

When the court reconvened on March 23, Von Lieres asked for another postponement, telling Desai he had taken over the case only days earlier.

Petersen has had three sets of lawyers since her arrest in early 2007.

Friends and family members from both sides of the Petersen family filled the public gallery in the courtroom well before Monday’s proceedings got under way.

As Petersen and her co-accused filed into the dock, they were greeted by a barrage of clicking from press photographers.

When the hearing began, Von Lieres asked Desai for clarity on an earlier ruling he had made on the presence of the media, complaining that the court had been “besieged by a whole horde of these persons”.

Desai explained that the cameras were allowed in before proceedings got under way, but not while the court was in session.

He might at a later stage reconsider this ruling.

The other accused are Abdoer Emjedi and Waheed Hassen.

All four are in custody, Petersen after having two bail appeals rejected by the high court.—Sapa

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