Court queries Najwa's evidence

As Najwa Petersen stepped into the dock in the Cape High Court on Monday morning, she clasped the hand of her senior counsel as if seeking reassurance or courage.

By the end of the day, however, that courage may have been waning as Judge Siraj Desai repeatedly cast doubt on her version of the events surrounding the murder of her entertainer husband, Taliep.

Najwa and the three men she allegedly hired to carry out the execution-style slaying have pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, unlawful possession of a firearm and ammunition, and robbery with aggravating circumstances.

Desai began reading out his marathon judgement in a packed courtroom just before 10.15am.

He carried on reading with breaks for tea, a moment of silence at noon to mark World Aids Day, and lunch—until shortly after 4pm, when he announced that he regrettably still had “some distance to go”, and postponed the hearing to Tuesday morning.

Najwa’s version of events on the night of the murder was that she, Taliep and her son and daughter-in-law were the victims of violent robbers.

However, Desai said the fact that, on her evidence, the robber who woke her up did not search her or take her cellphone was conduct inconsistent with that of a real robber.

It created the impression the robber knew he was just supposed to accompany her to another room and get money from a safe.

What happened when she led the robber to her son’s bedroom was likewise more consistent with an arranged attack than a real robbery.

Desai said repeatedly there appeared to be no robbery-related reason for Taliep’s killing, because when the fatal shot was fired, she, her son and daughter-in-law were locked up in bedrooms, and Taliep was lying bound on the floor. He said Najwa had speculated that Taliep might have seen the face of one of the two men, but on her evidence they were both wearing balaclavas, so this was hardly likely.

The judge said the first robber had locked her in a bedroom with her cellphone, and a Telkom phone was clearly visible on a pedestal next to the bed, either of which she could have used to call the police.

This was not something an intelligent robber would have done, unless he knew the victim was cooperating.

Earlier, Desai dealt in some detail with the testimony of Fahiem Hendricks, the takeaway shop owner who Najwa allegedly asked to recruit the hit men.

Hendricks was warned as an accomplice when he took the stand in a bullet-proof jacket, and is in a witness-protection programme.

Desai said Hendricks had been subjected to a long and gruelling cross-examination by defence lawyers.

Though some discrepancies had emerged, as was inevitable, the essential features of his testimony had remained intact.

He was acutely aware of the need to approach Hendricks’s evidence with caution.

However, his testimony had been fairly coherent and logical.

“He did not convey the impression he was being less than frank,” the judge said.

Desai was less complimentary about Hendricks in other ways, describing him as dishevelled and “not an impressive individual”.

Hendricks told the court in his testimony that when Najwa asked him to find hit men, he in turn asked her co-accused, Abdoer Emjedi, to arrange it.

Desai said the state had inflicted “a telling blow” by producing records of the web of cellphone calls that ensued between the three.

Hendricks also said in his testimony that after the killing he and Najwa agreed to lie to the police to explain their phone contact in the days leading up to the murder, first with an imaginary love affair, then a fake diamond deal.

Taliep was shot through the neck in the Petersen family home in Athlone, Cape Town, on the night of December 16 2006.—Sapa

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