Karabo Mokoena killer caught in 'a web of lies'

With his findings, the judge announced that though it could not be determined if the murder was premeditated, the court had found Sandile Mantsoe guilty. (Sowetan/Veli Nhlapo)

With his findings, the judge announced that though it could not be determined if the murder was premeditated, the court had found Sandile Mantsoe guilty. (Sowetan/Veli Nhlapo)

Sandile Mantsoe was ‘dishonest’, said Acting Judge Peet Johnson when he found him guilty of murdering his former girlfriend Karabo Mokoena.

Mantsoe was also convicted of assault with the intent to inflict grievous bodily harm and defeating the ends of justice. Sentence will be handed down tomorrow.

Before judgment, the state and defence presented their closing statements to a packed courtroom on Wednesday. Both lawyers’ statements were questioned by the judge.

State advocate Pakanyiswa Marasela gave a summary of the evidence before concluding “the state believes that it has proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt”.

She detailed the evidence — focusing on the dumping and burning of Mokoena’s body on Corlett Drive — to support a finding that Mantsoe murdered Mokoena.

Judge Johnson interrupted Marasela’s closing address to say he had difficulty accepting the state’s findings from the CCTV video footage from Mantsoe’s apartment on the night of Mokoena’s murder. With only photographs, and no oral testimony, he suggested the prosecution was unable to prove that the accused had had a knife in his pocket.

After speaking about the video footage, Marasela turned to the assault charges, saying the injuries the deceased sustained on March 27 2017 were indeed inflicted by Mantsoe, as supported by Mokoena’s best friend Stephanie Leong and sister Bontle Mokoena’s testimony.

Mantsoe “did not bother to take the deceased to the hospital himself. He was afraid he would be arrested,” said Marasela.

Advocate Marasela said Mantsoe should have taken the stand to testify in his own defence about how Mokoena had received her wounds. But the judge interjected, reminding the advocate of the accused’s right to remain silent and explaining further that there were no witnesses to prove that Mantsoe had actually inflicted wounds.

The defence failed to prove that Mokoena was suicidal, Marasela argued, saying the accused was the last person seen with Mokoena. Although Mantsoe alleged Mokoena stabbed herself, the prosecution countered: “Is it a coincidence that Karabo stabbed herself while the accused had dumped her body?”

Additionally, the state argued that on the video evidence, Mantsoe left his apartment at 6.22pm and returned at 6.26pm giving Mokoena only four minutes to kill herself. Marasela reasoned this was not enough time for Mokoena to take her life. She also questioned why Mantsoe did not ask the security guards for assistance after finding her body.

Lastly, Marasela said the manner in which Mantsoe dumped and burned her body was “well-orchestrated.”

The state’s advocate posited the assault showed the accused was guilty of premeditated murder.

At this point, Johnson again interjected, questioning if there was “concrete evidence that the accused premeditated the murder.”

Marasela argued the admission of the ritual sacrifice in Constable Helen Mahwete’s testimony was proof of premeditation, but the judge interrupted saying he was “concerned about the reliability of evidence” since it was disputed testimony which had come from only one witness.

The defence advocate, Victor Simelane, was then called to present his closing argument. He began by going over Mahwete’s testimony. He advanced the argument that the story about an alleged ritual had been circulated by the media, thus influencing the constable’s testimony. The judge interrupted, suggesting the argument cannot be proved.

Simelane went on to say Constable Mahwete’s testimony was inaccurate because she would have retrieved blood evidence from the crime scene if she was an “honest” officer. Simelane elicited a chuckle from the court, when he said the constable was watching “too many Nigerian movies” therefore the testimony about the ritual was fabricated.

The defence then pointed to the injuries which Mokoena sustained on March 27 2017. Simelane argued there was no evidence Mantsoe had inflicted those wounds, thus Leong and Bontle’s testimonies could only be deemed as hearsay.

“There is no verification or corroboration from any other witness that Karabo was assaulted by the accused,” Simelane said.

Finally, Simelane addressed Mokoena’s alleged suicide. He said the state’s version of Mokoena being killed earlier in the day is invalid considering that the corpse was not removed from the room until the evening and rigor mortis would have prevented Mantsoe from moving it.

The judge then brought up that it was common knowledge that she was killed with a knife and asked, “If the court rejects that she committed suicide what would remain? There is no allegation that she was killed by anyone else. The only conclusion that the court can come to is that he stabbed her if they figure she didn’t commit suicide.”

Although Mantsoe pleaded not guilty to charges of defeating the ends of justice, the defence admitted Mantsoe is indeed guilty of these lesser charges as he had disclosed he has to moved, dumped and burnt Mokoena’s body.

After Simelane gave his closing statements, the judge adjourned for tea.

The Verdict

When he returned Judge Johnson gave his findings and announced the verdict, saying the allegations: “the state alleges that the accused and deceased had a relationship and [the accused] assaulted her, killed her and disposed of her body by burning it.”

He first walked through the accounts of each witness and then analysed them.

He found that it was common cause that the “accused and deceased had an altercation on March 27, but [the deceased] sustained no injuries but subsequently, she ultimately ended up in the hospital.”

He also found that it was common cause that Mokoena entered Sandton Skye at 2.48am on April 28 and the accused placed her body in a dustbin which he then used to move her to his car. He then drove to Lyndhurst to dispose of her body and set it alight using a tyre, petrol and acid.

It was undisputed that the accused did dispose of the body of the deceased and burned it beyond recognition, as admitted by the defence.

Judge Johnson then stated that counts one and two were still in dispute: the former was assault with the intent to cause grievous bodily harm and the latter was murder. It was also not addressed “whether the accused had succeeded in the obstructing the ends of justice or if it was an attempt only.”

First, the judge had to decide whether the evidence surrounding the assault was admissible since there were no witnesses to confirm whether Mokoena and Mantsoe were involved in a physical altercation. The only evidence that the judge had was from Mokoena’s close friend Stephanie Leong’s testimony. In Leong’s testimony, she stated that Mokoena had sent her a photo of her injuries on March 30 2017 indicating Mantsoe had beaten her. The statement was declared hearsay, but the judge decided to admiss it in the “interest of justice.”

Then the judge explained Captain Mhlongo’s testimony. It was originally disputed in a trial within a trial because Mhlongo stated that Mantsoe had admitted that he had murdered Mokoena, but refused to have his words written down. The judge found the admission was credible and on Wednesday the judge stated that Mhlongo had “no motive at all for falsely implicating the accused.”

Judge Johnson went on to say “the accused was not an honest witness” since he had given “conflicting instructions to his advocate.”

The judge continued, questioning the legitimacy of Mantsoe’s allegations that Mokoena had taken her own life. He stated that if she had indeed taken her own life, he would raised the alarm, calling security guards in his apartment building instead of trying to cover it up himself.

“The last thing someone would try to do in the suicide of a loved one is try to exonerate himself,” said Johnson. “There was nothing [for him] to be afraid of because everyone would see what he saw.”

Judge Johnson said that the accused had “meticulously covered up the evidence,” but he was now “caught in a web of lies.”

With his findings, the judge announced that though it could not be determined if the murder was premeditated, the court had found Sandile Mantsoe guilty.

Mokoena’s family was relieved and satisfied by the news.

“As her name states, Karabo is an answer to what happened. I’ve been having mixed emotions about everything because of the evidence but today is when I saw that there is justice,” said Lolo Mokoena.

Mokoena’s uncle Tshepo expressed relief in the verdict and said he was disgusted by Mantsoe saying, “I think Sandile is sick. How can I forgive somebody who has never asked for forgiveness?”

Arielle Schwartz

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