May 3, 2015
As far as evidence-in-chief goes, Carrington Laughton has proved himself to be an impressive witness. He is clearly familiar with the way a courtroom functions and is comfortable enough to speak directly to the judge or instruct his lawyer from inside the witness box. While testifying, Laughton picks his words carefully, shows off his powerful memory and dismisses the evidence against him as “ridiculous” or “completely untrue”. He never seems to run out of confidence.
The man accused of writing a confession at the heart of the “Cold Case” has spent three days giving his version. He is almost done and will now face cross examination. The next few days will define what kind of witness he will be remembered as. Laughton continues to deny that he wrote the letter and maintains he is being framed.
This is the first time the former private investigator has given a full version. He kept his cards close to his chest right up until his Section 174 application failed to keep him out of the witness box. As expected, Laughton has presented a comprehensive defence, complete with a 1995 diary and an incredible amount of detail – down to the colour of a suitcase he claims to have laid eyes on twenty years ago.
Carrington has presented a dramatically different timeline of key events in his life, which challenges the state’s case against him. He claims that at the time when Betty Ketani was kidnapped and killed (May 1999), he was spending his weeks in Cape Town on business. He has also tried to explain why his two co-accused, Carel and David Ranger, confessed (during their bail application) to pushing Betty Ketani out of a Vereeniging hospital in 1999. [You’ll recall that the state’s version is that Laughton and Conway Brown tried to kill Ketani on the side of a road but failed, which led to her being snatched from hospital and left to die in an old hollowed-out bus.] The Rangers claimed in their bail statements that they did help Laughton pick up a woman from hospital, but that she appeared unharmed and if she was being kidnapped, they had no idea.
Now Laughton has told a court that the Rangers confused their dates and that they had in fact helped him pick up a woman from that same hospital, but that it was in 1995 and not 1999, and that the woman was Mary not Betty, and that she was not being kidnapped but was a friend or a relative of a security guard who worked for Laughton.
Expect prosecutor Herman Broodryk to spend hours interrogating Laughton’s new alibi and his explanation of the hospital incident. Much of this will be make-or-break for the defence.
Laughton also spent much of his three days on the stand discrediting his former friends Conway Brown, Paul Toft-Nielsen and Dirk Reinecke. All three were arrested with him but took deals and gave evidence against him. He, in turn, has called them liars who implicated him only to save themselves.
Laughton has given the court a rare glimpse into his private life; from his failed marriages to his army medals, and from his investigations to his run-ins with the law (including his previous conviction for perjury).
He has painted his arrest as unlawful, attacking the way his house was searched and (quite ironically given his own career) the police’s use of private investigators.
Crucial to his case, he has also given great detail about his feud with former Cranks owner Eric Neeteson-Lemkes. Cranks is the popular Rosebank restaurant (now closed) where Ketani worked as a cook and the site of one of Laughton’s investigations.
He claims that Neeteson-Lemkes was a “bitter and twisted” man who accused him of wasting his money and of interfering in his family. Laughton briefly dated Eric’s daughter Monique. All this, he claims, led to a “campaign of terror” from Eric, which included Laughton being arrested on two separate occasions. Both cases were thrown out of court due to a lack of evidence. Laughton also believes Eric was behind a robbery at his house in 2001.
So the spine of Carrington’s defence is that the confession, which was found under a carpet at Brown’s old house, was another one of Eric’s attempts to have him thrown in jail.
Led by his advocate, Laurence Hodes, Laughton has gone through each and every sentence of the “confession”, picking up on spelling and grammar mistakes he claims he would never have made and highlighting other, more serious, discrepancies. He’s also gone through all of the statements made against him, again denying any wrongdoing. The idea here is probably to cast as much doubt as possible on the evidence as a whole. From the smallest spelling mistake (“Alexander” instead of “Alexandra”) to more fundamental differences in the versions given by the so-called “accomplice witnesses”.
In conclusion, Laughton has delivered a forceful denial of any involvement in any of the crimes the state has accused him of. He had waited almost three years to speak, and when he did he came across as the kind of witness most lawyers dream about. The kind of witness who can recall from memory what letter and number is assigned to a specific document in a thick police docket. But the real test is yet to come: cross-examination. Stay tuned…