How phones nailed Najwa

Taliep Petersen’s wife might have walked free if it weren’t for cellphone records which allowed an expert to track Najwa Petersen’s movements from room to room in her house.

This week Najwa Petersen was found guilty of murdering her husband on the Day of Reconciliation two years ago. The murder weapon was not found—instead the smoking gun was found in her cellphone records.

Cops from the organised crime unit used the records to build a case that convicted Petersen, and her co-accused Abdoer Emjedi, Waheed Hassen and Jefferson Snyders, of murder. The main state witness and the man hired to kill Petersen was Fahiem “Piele” Hendricks.

After Judge Siraj Desai announced the guilty verdict on Tuesday, people cheered, some cried in joy and others in despair.
The daily tabloid Die Son set up a stall dishing out snacks and drinks to spectators and family members.

The cops from the organised crime unit in Bellville had suspected Najwa Petersen was involved in the murder within 24 hours of her husband being shot, but they only arrested her six months later.

Captain Piet Viljoen was put on the case the day after the murder because of Taliep Petersen’s high profile. He immediately noticed that although Najwa Petersen said it had been a robbery, she still had two cellphones. He took the phones, but she asked for one back, saying she needed it for business and needed to retrieve a number. Viljoen returned the phone.

But when Viljoen and his colleague Captain Kenneth Speed got the phone back that they found that Najwa Petersen had called Hendricks 10 times on the day of her husband’s murder and that afterwards she tried to remove his number from her phone.

“Why did she decide to delete the calls? An obvious inference is that she was trying to hide her relationship with Hendricks or, perhaps, her calls to him, immediately before the events that led to her husband’s untimely death,” Desai found in his judgement.

In devastating detail Peter Schmitz, from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, testified exactly where each of the accused had been when they talked to each other by cellphone.

Schmitz drew maps showing the calls made and received by all the accused and was able to detail where Najwa Petersen had moved during the night of her husband’s murder. In her testimony, which Desai described as “festering with lies”, the widow claimed that she had taken heavy medication and gone to sleep before the attack.

Desai dismissed this version: “The conclusion is inescapable that there was a Trojan horse in the home who facilitated — entry. Najwa was in the main bedroom. The evidence suggests that she had taken a bath shortly before the intruders arrived and it is possible to open the gate from that room.”

Petersen’s claims were also contradicted by the cellphone evidence.

“On the night of December 16 Najwa — first made a few calls on her cellphone, went to sleep and was woken up by the intruder. The cellphone calls she made at 20h11 and 21h20 that were picked up by the Kewtown 3 base station could only have been made from the main bedroom. A call made at 21h23 was picked up by the Crawford 1 base station and must have been made from the room where she slept. Then she made a call at 22h06 which was picked up by the Kewtown base station—thus from the main bedroom, at 22h36 from the main bedroom (Kewtown), at 23h03 still from the main bedroom (Kewtown) and then at 23h26 from the room where she slept. She accordingly must have moved around ‘anywhere upstairs’ during that period,” Desai said in his judgement.

Schmitz’s data reflects that on the day Taliep was killed, Najwa phoned Hendricks 10 times, who phoned Emjedi on five occasions, who phoned Hassen, possibly the man who pulled the trigger, on four occasions.

Captain Joe Dryden, investigating officer of the case, said they were suspicious of Najwa “from very early on”.

“I haven’t stopped smiling since Desai handed down that judgement — I suppose one can say Najwa and those accused with her were stupid thinking they can cover their tracks when they used cellular phones. I mean, it’s obvious: they don’t speak at all. Then suddenly they make loads of calls to each other and after the murder they have almost no contact except after each police interrogation. Once we saw that pattern, it was merely a case of stitching it together,” he said.

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