Botched investigation sees Cape taxi killing suspects walk free

30 July 2019 - 17:03 By PHILANI NOMBEMBE
The court judgment unveiled a litany of errors that plagued the murder investigation. File Photo.
The court judgment unveiled a litany of errors that plagued the murder investigation. File Photo.

Two people died in a volley of bullets at the Nyanga taxi rank, in Cape Town, on July 25 2013. But six years later, three taxi owners and an acquaintance who had been fingered in the investigation have walked free.

Relatives Andile Cakasayo, Melikhaya Cakasayo and Nkosithandile Cakasayo, as well as  Nyameko Daki, had been charged with the killings and faced two additional counts of attempted murder.

The judgment delivered by acting judge Fred Sievers in the high court in Cape Town on Tuesday unveiled a litany of errors that plagued the investigation. These included poor recording of statements, poor handling of evidence and botched ballistics tests.

The prosecutor in the matter even said: “At this juncture it may be appropriate to mention that there were deficiencies in the manner in which the police conducted the investigation which ranged from ineptitude, to dereliction of duty, to blatant carelessness when handling and recording of the … exhibits and to a clear lack of understanding or gravitas when taking and commissioning statements which formed the basis of the state’s prosecution of the accused.”

Sievers said: “It became clear from the evidence that the police regularly dated and commissioned statements in the absence of the witnesses on a different date and at a different location to where the statements had been made.”

This related to eyewitness Celani Twazi, also a taxi owner, who was at the rank when the shooting happened. He testified that the man had shot at him but he managed to escape.

He “did not report the incident to the police, whom he believed had connections with the accused”.

Twazi moved to the Eastern Cape a few days later but said an investigating officer from Cape Town later visited him and took a statement from him. He said he met the detective in Cape Town and gave him additional information.

But when his statement, which reflected that it was taken in Cape Town, was read back to him during cross examination, he pointed out that it did not mention Melikhaya and Nkosithandile “carrying firearms or shooting at him”.

Twazi said he had mentioned this to the police officer but the investigating officer denied it.  

“Twazi’s statement, purportedly deposed to in Cape Town on August 23 2014, was read to him and it was pointed out that it makes no mention of Andile,” Sievers said in the 35-page judgment.

“Twazi stated that he had given the statement in Cape Town, [the detective] said this had occurred in East London. The state did not lead the evidence of several witnesses that were placed on the scene of the incident by the summary of substantial facts.”

Twazi was a single witness and the defence poked holes in the evidence as “not sufficiently credible or reliable to justify a factual finding that any of the accused were involved in the shooting … ”

Ballistics evidence also blasted a hole in the case. The court found the state’s ballistics expert witness wanting as his training was “unclear, [his] knowledge of error rates, and in particular his own error rate, is poor at best and [he] showed no understanding at all of the dangers of bias that, in his discipline particularly, can lead to erroneous identification”.

The court also found that the expert did not keep detailed notes of how he arrived at his conclusion and produced no photographic evidence. The “accuracy of his conclusion could not be tested”, the court said.

“With regard to bias, as appeared from the covering letter from the investigating officer …when the Norinco pistol was submitted to the forensics laboratory for examination, [the forensic expert] was advised that the weapon concerned had been seized from a person who was a suspect in relation to the case. The danger of bias is thus clear and real,” Sievers said.

Daki was also found with a firearm, which he claimed to have no knowledge of, in his car when he was arrested at a roadblock in Beaufort West. But he got off because “the firearm was not dusted for fingerprints”.

“Adopting a holistic approach to all of the evidence placed before the court, a reasonable doubt with regard to the guilt of the accused remains,” said Sievers.

“The forensic evidence cannot be used to corroborate Twazi’s evidence. As Twazi’s evidence cannot be accepted as sufficiently reliable and satisfactory on its own it follows that the state has not established the guilt of all the accused, on any of the charges, beyond reasonable doubt.

"It is ordered that the four accused are acquitted on all charges.”