February 20, 2014
Over the past two days of trial we’ve travelled back in time, hearing from the supermarket chef whose family discovered the hidden confession and from Carrington Laughton’s ex-wife Jayne. It’s always interesting, and haunting, to watch the ghosts of the past break free. So much testimony has been given it’s difficult to find the right place to begin…
Werner Nortje and his family discovered the bundle of letters (including the confession) on the last day of March 2012. Prosecutor Herman Broodryk SC summoned Werner for several reasons, the most important being for him to identify that the confession before court – those three typed and signed pages – are the same ones which were pulled up from under the carpet. Werner did just that. A dark brown moisture stain on the outside page (which had been folded in half) almost certainly helped the state’s case.
Werner, like everyone else, came in for a grilling from Laughton’s advocate Laurence Hodes SC, and was questioned about why some details had been left out of his affidavits. Hodes accused him of making statements which were “peppered with inaccuracies”. Werner cracked once, raising his voice and telling the judge that he was being asked the same question over and over again, but aside from that, he stood firm. His standard line turned out to be: I’m a chef, not a policeman. Werner was also forced to explain why he handed over the letters to private investigators and not the cops. His explanation was that he believed they were the police and, in any case, they were working with Yeoville detectives. He added that he didn’t go directly to the police because he doesn’t trust the SAPS. It’s too early to say how this aspect of the case will play out, but the defense will surely argue that the chain of evidence was broken.
Werner’s testimony also touched on the excavations done at his house, with the defense teams again suggesting that the ‘crime scene’ (or the shallow grave) was not secure and may have been tampered with. Overall, I’d be surprised if the judge makes a negative credibility finding against Werner. He came across as objective and as someone who has no motive to deceive the court. His objectivity, in my opinion, served as a shield against Hodes’ ‘inaccuracy’ arrows.
Jayne Laughton began testifying on the third day. She was nervous at first and was told on several occasions to speak louder. Everything about her body language screamed that she really didn’t want to be in that courtroom. Having covered the Jackie Selebi trial, I was particularly interested to hear her evidence. In the Selebi matter, it was Glenn Agliotti’s ex-fiancée, Dianne Muller, that inflicted a lethal wound to the police commissioner’s defense, describing how an envelope full of cash was slipped across the table. Jayne had been married to Carrington for five years and is the mother of one of his children. She has a lot of information about him, from his collection of army uniforms (and a doctor’s coat) to his “big gun” called Luigi.
Jayne was also the “mystery witness” who came forward to give the police a bunch of photographs which Carrington had asked her to keep safe in 2001. When she heard he was arrested for murder 11 years later, she went to her parents’ safe and retrieved his envelope. The photographs were an insurance policy against Cranks owner Eric Neeteson-Lemkes. Carrington’s case is (in essence) that he’s being framed by Eric, who has in the past bribed cops to have him arrested on at least two occasions. Carrington had investigated a string of thefts at the restaurant in 1999. The photographs are an important bit of circumstantial evidence as they are mentioned in the confession. The story goes that they were doctored to show a murder – allegedly ordered by Eric – which never took place.
Jayne also identified Carrington’s handwriting and signature, which is important to the state’s case. Carrington refused to give a handwriting sample but the police went to the prison where he was being kept and seized letters which he had written to the authorities. In yet another twist, Jayne testified that the signature he used on the prison letters was completely new and she had never seen it before. She also identified his signature on his passport, a slip for a television they once bought and their divorce papers. The confession itself is typed, but it is signed and contains a few lines of handwritten text at the end, which Jayne believes was made by Carrington’s hand.
Hodes didn’t waste any time in showing that Jayne is not a qualified handwriting expert and can’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that her assessments are correct. Remember, in a criminal trial, unlike in civil disputes, the state has to prove its case beyond any doubt. Hodes kept putting his client’s version forward: Carrington is being framed by “evil” Eric. The third week of trial should see the state’s handwriting analyst go head-to-head with the defense’s own expert. Jayne was there to say: “I knew the man for five years, he wrote a hundred letters to me, and that looks like his handwriting and signature”. She did concede that the signature on the confession looks neater than normal, which Hodes made a big deal out of.
Jayne also testified about Carrington’s circle of friends: Conway Brown (now a state witness), Paul Toft-Nielson (a state witness), Dirk Reynecke (state witness), Sandor, the Ranger brothers and others. She said that Carrington had told her that the photographs were made after Eric asked for a woman (presumably one of his employees) to be killed. She also shared what Carrington said about his ex-girlfriend and Eric’s daughter Monique: “She’s a thief who stole from her father” and who was arrested in Thailand. Monique has denied any wrongdoing.
Jayne was economical with her words and seemed like a solid witness. Both sides will probably claim victory here: the prosecutors will be pleased that she identified the handwriting and signature while the defense will take comfort from forcing her to admit that she is not a handwriting expert. Jayne also didn’t come across as bias to either side, admitting that Carrington was a good father and revealing that she refused to hand over the letters he wrote to their daughter. The key question now is: how much weight will be attached to her evidence.
The next step in the trial is the DNA evidence. The foreign experts fly in next week (fragments of bones were sent to the International Commission on Missing Persons in Bosnia for DNA tests). Why, you ask? Because South Africa didn’t have the equipment and expertise to pull DNA from the tiny, old bones. Considering the state is trying to prove a murder case without a body (which has only been done a handful of times) the DNA evidence is going to be crucial.
Follow the trial at: @alexeliseev or @ewnReporter