June 16, 2015 Alex Eliseev

A Race Against Time…

With the clock ticking down towards the end of the court term, the trial is moving faster now. Carrington Laughton is virtually done presenting his case and the first of the Ranger brothers has testified. The judge is now reluctant to grant postponements, insisting that each court day be filled, even if it means knocking out the order a little.

After spending the equivalent of two weeks on the witness stand, Laughton called his witnesses. First, there was a DNA expert who challenged the findings of the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), a world renowned DNA lab based in Bosnia. David Swanepoel argued that the forensic link established between the bones found in a shallow grave and Betty Ketani’s children is unreliable, especially in a criminal trial where the stakes are so much higher. He had a go at some of the chemicals used by the ICMP and testified that Ketani could still be excluded as the victim. The state questioned Swanepoel’s experience (he’s only been working for about five years) and level of qualifications (still studying towards a masters degree). Simply put, prosecutors argued: Are you really qualified to challenge our expert? The state’s witness who testified on behalf of the ICMP was Dr Thomas Parsons, who has a PHD in molecular biology (specialising in ancient DNA) and whose CV runs to over 20 pages, including the fact that at the time of testifying he led a team of over 80 scientists and had testified at The Hague. The ICMP, by the way, had expressed its own reservation at the results, saying they are not strong enough to be used without supporting evidence.

Laughton’s handwriting expert, Cecil Greenfield, on the other hand, was an absolute veteran with a lifetime of experience behind him. He testified about the reliability of handwriting evidence (to sum up: “treat it with caution, it’s subjective”), but mostly agreed with the findings of the state’s handwriting expert, policeman Marco Van der Hammen. Interestingly, Greenfield said he could find no evidence that the signatures on the confession were forged, except that the third one was slightly different to the first two (there are three pages and three signatures). He raised some questions about other aspects, like whether the third page was written with a different pen or at a different time. For the defense it was important to highlight the “anomalies”, feeding into the alleged conspiracy against Laughton.

One of Carrington’s friends, Leon Rehrl, also took the stand. His evidence supports Laughton’s claim that he is being framed. But I’d be surprised if this plays any major part in the outcome since Rehrl’s story is that (about 10 years ago) he had a conversation with someone, who had heard from someone else that there was an apparent plot to set Carrington up. There is no way to prove this, it wasn’t put to key state witnesses and Rehrl’s credibility is yet to be determined.

David Ranger, meanwhile, has given his evidence. His version aligns with Laughton’s, who claims they did go and pick up a woman at a hospital in Vereeniging, but that it was in 1995 and not in 1999. Laughton, and now David, who is a former policeman, say the woman was not Betty Ketani and was not being kidnapped, but instead was merely being driven to meet one of her family members. The problem for Ranger is that three years ago, he and his brother Carel signed bail affidavits that began with “During 1999…” and then spelt out this hospital trip. The statements were not only signed but read into the record and confirmed by them. David’s explanation now is that he was too stressed and angry to take it all in and should never have signed the statements or confirmed its contents. Prosecutor Herman Broodryk challenged him, saying David was a policeman with 17 years service who knows full well how important bail statements are. Not only that, he was also a trainer who taught others officers. We’ll have to wait and see what the court makes of this.

There are two weeks left before the end of the court term. It’s hoped that within that time both sides can finish presenting evidence, leaving only closing arguments and judgment.

Follow the trial: @alexeliseev / @ewnreporter

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