Why Siam Lee’s alleged murderer was released on bail
The prosecution of the businessman accused of murdering Siam Lee is on shaky ground – with bungling by police and a private investigator highlighted by the magistrate who released him on bail.
Basing their case on “circumstantial” evidence also weighed heavily against the state’s opposition to bail.
Magistrate Mahomed Motala granted the 30-year-old R40‚000 bail on Wednesday‚ bringing an end to his five-month bid for freedom.
He faces a raft of charges‚ including the kidnapping and murder of Lee‚ as well as the rape of another woman. He cannot be named until he has tendered a plea in relation to the rape charge.
Delivering his ruling on Wednesday‚ Motala examined facets of the investigation into Lee’s slaying‚ saying that the prosecution had placed heavy reliance on circumstantial evidence.
“The state’s evidence is that [currently] the cause of death‚ the place of death and the date and time of death [of Lee] are unknown. The state relies on circumstantial evidence that the deceased left with the applicant‚ two days later her body was found burnt on a farm in New Hanover and that the applicant’s vehicle was tracked to that area‚” he said in his ruling‚ which lasted 45 minutes.
In building their case against the businessman‚ the state‚ Motala said‚ was placing heavy reliance on evidence gathered from the impounding of his car and a search of the man’s Shongweni home in the west of Durban.
He found that it was “common cause” – essentially‚ that it was undisputed – that police and investigators aligned to PI Brad Nathanson had conducted repeated searches without a warrant. This‚ he said‚ could compromise the validity of the evidence and the outcome of his later trial.
“Of fundamental importance in all of this‚ it is common cause that this all occurred on a normal weekday when the court at Pinetown‚ which is a short distance from the applicants home‚ would have been available to obtain the relevant warrants. Why this was not done beggars belief‚” he said.
Motala said that while a bail court could not determine admissibility of evidence‚ it would be considered an exceptional circumstance based on what had been presented before him.
He also noted the public outcry which followed Lee’s murder‚ including that a petition to deny bail had been submitted by the state as evidence.
“A court cannot be seen to subvert its role and function at the alter of public opinion‚ or worse‚ become part of a lynch mob. As a responsible member of the community and a parent myself‚ I share in the grief of all those who were near and dear to the young Siam Lee and it has pained me to listen to details of her demise‚” he said.
“It is hugely important for us as a civilised society that when I sit here I fulfil the oath and promise of my office - to act without fear or favour our prejudice – and adding to that without influence of my own personal feelings‚” the magistrate said.
He found that the state’s circumstantial evidence‚ coupled with the fact that the alleged murderer presented evidence that many people relied on him to survive‚ were exceptional circumstances in his favour when it came to bail.
“He personally‚ or via his business‚ supports his mother and his brother who is in a private school. According to his testimony‚ which the state challenged but was not able to disprove‚ he employs 17 people in the business he runs‚ thereby providing support for a dozen or more families.
“Since his incarceration they [the employees] have not had an income and given the parlous state of unemployment in our country one can assume that at least some of them find themselves in trying financial circumstances‚” he added.
The man will have to report several times a week to the police station near his mother’s home‚ where he will live until there is an outcome in his trial.
Furthermore‚ he will not be able to travel without the permission of the investigating officer‚ and must honour his court dates.
He will appear again on August 17.