After spending more than 12 years in prison, a man who was sentenced to life behind bars for murder and robbery with aggravating circumstance has been set free.
The Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein overturned Lefu Jantjie Bakane’s conviction on all charges on Tuesday.
Bakane was arrested on June 23, 2004, after Johannes Albertus Maré from Pretoria was found strangled to death with a piece of curtain at his house.
“The appeal is upheld. The convictions and sentences are set aside and substituted with the following: The accused is found not guilty and discharged on both counts,” Justice Baratang Connie Mocumie said in her ruling on Tuesday.
According to the judgment, Maré’s post-mortem report reflected his date of death as June 22, 2004. It revealed that on the day of the discovery of Maré’s body, officers recovered a number of items in the veld not far from Maré’s house. The items included four television remote controls, which they believed were removed from his house when he was attacked, a woollen cap, a jacket and a knife. Not guilty plea
The police believed that Maré was also robbed of his money as he ran a shop on the premises, read the judgment.
Bakane and his four co-accused were all arrested on the same day.
They appeared in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria and were sentenced to life in prison for murder and 15 years each for robbery with aggravating circumstances. The sentences would run concurrently.
Bakane pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The judgment further states that Bakane testified that the police found him at his girlfriend’s house on the morning of June 23, 2014.
He was assaulted by the police and forced to point out his co-accused. All five of them were assaulted and arrested.
The court said when police searched his girlfriend’s house, they found no incriminating evidence. Bakane was taken to point out the deceased’s house. He was also made to sign documents at the police station.
However, he testified that he was not aware of what was written on those documents.
Bakane said that when the offences were committed at around 18:00 or 18:15 – which is the same time one of the neighbours said he saw five young men run out of the deceased’s house – he could not have been at Maré’s house as he and his co-accused only finished work, at a place called Why Not Wood, at 18:00.
He did not call his employer to confirm his alibi after he was apparently told by officers that his employer had relocated.
The Supreme Court of Appeal found that from the answers Bakane had provided to the police there was no proof of the “requisite elements” of the crimes of murder and robbery.
“The trial court should have been alive to this and should have taken this into account in determining whether exhibit H (his testimony) was made voluntarily or under any form of compulsion or coercion,” said Justice Mocumie.
Breach of constitutional rights
She said it was common cause that the police assaulted Bakane and obtained a statement from him despite his election not to make a statement.
“And the trial court accepted that there was ‘some slapping and rough handling’ and that this amounted to an ‘assault but not to torture’.
“It appears that the appellant (Bakane) was hoodwinked into making a statement which he consciously did not want to make,” she said.
Mocumie said the State failed to present evidence to prove that the jacket, woollen cap and knife found in the veld next to Maré’s house belonged to Bakane.
“It seems that no tests were conducted on these items in order to link them to the appellant and his co-accused, especially the appellant, who was arrested on the basis that he was seen wearing the jacket and woollen cap from time to time.
“It is of great concern that this case was compromised from the onset by the manner in which the police investigated it.
“The breach of a number of constitutional rights in this case which is supposedly common knowledge in the police force since the advent of our democracy; is still happening.”