When the case is wrapped up, court transcripts of the trial of those accused of killing Nathaniel Julies, should they be placed side by side, may read like Denzel Washington’s blockbuster Training Day.
The similarities are uncanny: both the murder case and the fictitious movie feature an antagonistic corrupt senior cop and his outlawed ammunition; a fresh graduate trainee on a lawless enforcement operation; and a cover-up that went bust.
State witness Constable Mandla Sithole’s testimony has again unveiled a scant regard for protocol or the rule of law, from the moment the South African Police Service (SAPS) members left the Eldorado Park station on 26 August 2020 to the events after Julies’s murder.
From secret recordings and texts between lovers, to drinking on the job, to illegal ammunition and excessive force directed at members of the public, the trial is shining a light on what impunity looks like in SAPS’s daily operations, particularly during the Covid-19 lockdown imposed from late March last year.
Defence attorneys in the murder case against three Eldorado Park police officers for the death of the teenager, who lived with a mental disability, concluded their cross-examination on Tuesday at the high court sitting in Palmridge.
New evidence emerged from Sithole, who took the stand a week ago. Sithole claims that accused two, senior officer Sergeant Simon ‘Scorpion’ Ndyalvane, concealed a bullet casing when police made off with Julies at the back of a police van.
He and three other junior officers were among the graduate trainees who were in the police van when Julies was gunned down by one of the officers, just metres from his home.
According to Sithole, he loaded a shotgun with a rubber bullet before accused one, Caylene Whiteboy, took the shotgun and fired from the vehicle at Julies and another unknown boy he was interacting with near the truck.
When defence lawyers grilled him about his version of events, and his motive behind secretly recording Whiteboy and Ndyalvane when the pair discussed a plan to cover up the murder, Sithole told the court that he and others feared Ndyalvane.
Ndyalvane’s lawyer, advocate Mandla Manyatheli, used his cross-examination to cast doubt on the credibility of the recording, which Sithole made and handed to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate.
Sithole was asked to explain how Ndyalvane was able to remove a shell from the shotgun even while he was driving at a speed to Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, where the police decided to take Julies. He recalled how the van was moving “zigzag” while Ndyalvane removed the shell.
“Did you actually see him?” asked Manyatheli, to which Sithole responded, “Yes.”
However, Manyatheli argued that because of Sithole’s sitting position at the back, he could not have been in a good position to see clearly.
Judge Ramarumo Monama disallowed several questions in which Manyatheli put it to Sithole that he should have been charged with accessory to murder if he did, in fact, see Ndyalvane remove bullets from the shotgun that killed Julies.
Monama told the defence lawyer for a second time, that he would not allow the defence to remain on the issue of whether Sithole should have been charged.
The ammunition shell in question was not the bullet that killed Julies.
The question of how a live round killed Julies, despite Sithole and Whiteboy claiming to have loaded and used rubber bullets in the same gun before the murder, is one that has not yet been answered during the trial.
However, Sithole has submitted that Whiteboy had no reason to shoot at Julies and the boy he was interacting with that night; she also claims she identified him as a boy living with a mental disability before he was shot and killed.
On Wednesday, eyewitness Thaheera Kaldine is expected to take the stand. Kaldine missed her first scheduled testimony on the second day of the trial, prompting the presiding officer to issue a warrant.
Kaldine may shed light on Julie’s final moments because — according to the state’s first witness, her mother Tasneem Kaldine — she was outside their yard and directly opposite the truck at the moment he was gunned down.
Kaldine is one of more than 60 witnesses, including several junior officers, that the state is planning to call to the stand. A station commander who was also slated to testify, Brigadier Pieter van Dyk, died this August, a year after Julies was murdered and two months before the trial began.