How detective became suspicious of Najwa Petersen

A detective told the Cape High Court on Thursday that he became suspicious of murder accused Najwa Petersen after hearing her sobbing account on the night of her husband’s Taliep’s death.

Inspector Brian Hermanus, of the Athlone police, was the second witness to be called in the trial of Petersen and the three men she allegedly hired to carry out the execution-style shooting on the night of December 16 2006.

He said when he arrived at the Grasmere Street home, he saw Taliep’s body lying at the top of a flight of stairs, his bloody head covered with a towel. He found Najwa and her daughter Zainub, then about eight years old, in a bedroom. Najwa was sitting on a bed crying, and appeared confused.

She told him she had heard the bell of the security gate on the property’s front entrance ringing and assumed that Taliep had pressed the button to open it.

She said that soon afterwards a man wearing a balaclava and gloves had come into her bedroom, taken her to Taliep’s bedroom—the couple at that stage slept in separate rooms—and demanded money, which she gave him from the safe in the room.

When Hermanus asked her where Taliep had been while this was happening, she initially could not answer him.
She was sobbing so much he had to give her breaks to calm down. He asked how many suspects there had been, and she said again that one man had entered her room, though later said there had been “one or two”.

“I then asked her again where the deceased [had been] and she replied that they were ‘busy’ with him. I asked her what she meant by ‘busy’. She just said, repeatedly, that they were busy with him and she started sobbing again.”

Hermanus said he then went to talk to Najwa’s adult son from a previous marriage, Achmat Gamieldien, who lived in the house with his wife and baby daughter.

Gamieldien said he had been woken by a man wearing gloves and a balaclava, holding a gun in his right hand, and that Najwa was standing beside the man. The man demanded money, and took about R1 500 from his jeans, cellphones, watches and a digital camera before leaving with Najwa and locking them in the room.

Hermanus then went back to Najwa, and asked her where Zainub had been during the ordeal. She initially told him Zainub had been in her bedroom when the man entered, then changed her mind and said he had been in Taliep’s bedroom.

Hermanus said her state had been no different from that of any other house-robbery victim he had interviewed in his long police career. “At that moment it appeared it was a genuine house robbery. But later that same morning I began to have reservations about what had happened,” he said.

Asked to explain his statement by prosecutor Susan Galloway, he replied: “Because of what accused number one [Najwa] told me on the crime scene… the fact that no one else had heard the doorbell ringing.

“The fact that she was not sure in which bedroom her daughter had been when the suspect entered her bedroom, the fact that she could not specify [anything] when she told me that they were ‘busy’ with him, and that she was not sure how many suspects there had been. And the fact that ... she had accompanied the suspect to her son’s room.”

Asked why this should be suspicious, he said it was a “gut feeling”, adding: “The impression I formed [was] that it might have been to protect her son.”

The state claims the robbery was staged to cover the killers’ true motive—to shoot Taliep.

Cross-examined by Najwa’s advocate, Klaus von Lieres, Hermanus said Najwa’s sobbing had appeared genuine, but added: “People get Oscars for acting. I could not say she was acting at that time.”

Earlier on Thursday, Judge Siraj Desai, his two assessors, the four accused and their legal teams all visited the Grasmere Street home for an on-site inspection.

Najwa and her co-accused were in ankle shackles, and though she was able to hug her daughter Zainub, it was at the centre of a ring of heavily armed police.

The other accused are Abdoer Emjedi, Waheed Hassen and Jefferson Snyders.

The case continues on Friday.—Sapa

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