Judgment Day

February 17, 2016

Two years, to the day, after the trial began, Judge Natvarial Ranchod finished delivering his judgment. Carrington Laughton has been convicted of murder, kidnapping and attempted kidnapping. Carel and David Ranger were found guilty of kidnapping and Culpable Homicide. The three are to be sentenced in early May.

A court has now ruled the confession discovered under the carpet is genuine and was written by Laughton. Almost 17 years after Betty Ketani vanished without a trace, her family finally have closure.

Judge Ranchod found the state presented a “formidable case” against Laughton and the Rangers. The DNA tests and handwriting analysis, along with the evidence of the state’s 105A witnesses, all proved crucial. The court rejected Laughton’s testimony (and surprise alibi) as “false beyond reasonable doubt” and described him as a poor, evasive witness. The judge was not impressed with the defence’s DNA expert, who had made up his title, nor by Laughton’s friend Leon Rehrl. He noted that Conway Brown, Paul Toft-Nielson and Dirk Reinecke were hardly “angels”, but their evidence was corroborated.

Moments after the judgment was delivered, there were tears of joy and hugs outside the courtroom. Ketani’s eldest daughter Bulelwa and brother Mankinki had travelled from the Eastern Cape to witness the moment. They thanked prosecutors Herman Broodryk and Namika Kowlas, and detective Gerhard Van Wyk, for all their work. Bulelwa says they will now try and bring her mother’s spirit home.

Judgment Day

For more, see the following links from EWN:

Story 01

Story 02 

What will the DNA reveal?

February 26, 2014

Trial resumes today after a short break. To catch up, click on the following link:

http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2014-02-23-a-cold-case-a-sizzling-battle-betty-ketani-murder-trial-week-one/#.Uw1tTl5RHtI

Next up, if all goes according to plan, are the international DNA experts from Bosnia and America.

Follow the trial at @alexeliseev or @ewnreporter

Ghosts of the Past Break Free…

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

The Unraveling Begins…

February 18, 2014

After two long years, the Betty Ketani trial is finally underway. And so begins the grand unraveling of this 15-year-old murder mystery.

It’s thrilling how much detail has emerged in just one day. Things we didn’t know before about how Betty Ketani’s family searched for her and the police process which unfolded once she was reported missing. There are also fresh details about Betty’s life in Johannesburg, away from her children and family in the Eastern Cape.

The most significant aspect to emerge yesterday was a glimpse into what Carrington Laughton’s defense will be during this trial. His lawyer, Laurence Hodes SC, told the court that Laughton – who is the alleged author of the hidden confession – believes he has been set up. Framed. By Eric Neeteson-Lemkes, who was Ketani’s boss at the time and of course the owner of Cranks restaurant in Rosebank. So it appears Laughton is going to heap all the blame on Eric, who is not in South Africa to either stand trial or refute the allegations. You’ll remember that Eric fled the country in 2012, owing his landlord at the Rosebank Mall more than a million Rand. It’s believed he is now in Thailand.

The first witness to be called by prosecutor Herman Broodryk SC and his colleague Namika Kowlas was Johan Reynecke, a commander at the police’s missing persons unit. Reynecke testified about how the report into Ketani’s disappearance was handled. It was fairly technical and Reynecke was cross-examined about the possibility of Ketani crossing one of South Africa’s borders illegally between the time she was last seen (May 20, 1999) and the time the police circulated her as a missing persons (May 29, 1999). Once her name was circulated, she would have been flagged and stopped at any of the country’s border posts. What the defense is trying to do here is cast doubt on the fact that Ketani is dead. There’s no body in this case, only bone fragments which are going to be contested. So the defense is saying: “what if she was never killed? What if she simply left and is still missing? Can you prove that she has been murdered?”

Next up was Ketani’s brother Ronnie Bikauri. He testified about the days surrounding his sister’s disappearance. It was he who reported her missing to the police and so it was he who had to endure Hodes’ grueling cross-examination. He was forced to account for small discrepancies between his testimony and an earlier statement, speak about his sister’s private life and explain who was the last person to see her alive: her then boyfriend or her sister who shared a flat with Ketani. Bikauri said it was “impossible” that his sister would ever abandon her children and had never gone missing before. He also revealed that her ID book and all of her clothes were still at home and she went missing. Looking back at the yellowing SAP55 report, he went over emotive details like the outfit which Betty was wearing on the day: blue jeans, red jacket and red, green and yellow shoes. She certainly liked bright colours.

In essence, the defense has moved to plant seeds of doubt about whether Ketani is in fact dead and whether it may have been her boyfriend who killed her. As for Laughton, he’s being “set up”. We haven’t heard much from the Ranger brothers. Carel and David placed themselves at the hospital scene during their bail application and it’s going to be interesting to see how they try and explain that later on. All three have pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and kidnapping.

As usual, family members were in court to support the three accused. Laughton’s wife and father were there. The Rangers had a few relatives in the public gallery.

From here, we’re expecting to hear from the family which found the confession while pulling up old carpets. Werner Nortje, a supermarket chef, is likely to testify on behalf of his family. I suspect he will be in for a tough cross-examination, but the real battle between the state and the defense will come afterwards and will revolve around how the letter was handled and by whom.

The trial continues.

Follow every development at: @alexeliseev and @ewnreporter

I will update this blog as often as possible over the next three weeks. I am aiming for at least two or three updates a week, depending on the testimony and deadline pressures.

Who Killed Betty Ketani?

June 26, 2013

To read my latest article on the Cold Case, click here (or on the “Press” page button) and scroll right down to the bottom. There you will find the Grazia magazine cut-out. The story is about the bones which were found in a shallow grave and their amazing journey to Bosnia…

The trial is due to start in less than a month now. The next few weeks are going to be fascinating in terms of behind-the-scenes activity. We should know soon whether any plea bargain deals have been struck and, if so, what they look like and who will testify against who. We should also have news from Australia.

Carrington Laughton, the alleged author of the confession, has been denied bail yet again. He brought a new application just a few days ago but the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court failed to see that there are any new facts that need to be considered. Laughton’s main lines of attack were: his son has been born and therefore his personal circumstances have changed; the state’s case is weak; media interest (and therefore public interest) has dwindled; and he’s a perfect candidate for electronic monitoring / house arrest. The court disagreed with each of his arguments. It found that Laughton had revealed that his wife was pregnant at the time of the original bail application and birth is the natural progression of that (in other words it’s like arguing that you were 40-year-old then but are now 41); the state’s case is now stronger than before, with DNA and handwriting results; public interest involves Betty Ketani’s family and community and is not measured by the number of journalists in court (plus, law doesn’t rely on media coverage); and finally, that qualifying for house arrest and electronic monitoring is not a new fact.

So now it’s the final stretch towards trial. Stay tuned.

 

 

DNA Results Emerge a Month Before Trial

12 June 2013

I’ll have a more in-depth post on this a little later on – but for now, you can check out the following link:

http://ewn.co.za/2013/06/12/New-evidence-found-in-Ketane-case

As well as this one:

http://ewn.co.za/Media/2013/06/11/130611Alex

Looking forward to telling you more about the latest developments.

 

Running Into Brick Walls…

It wasn’t the most eloquent court theater I’ve ever watched, and the outcome was painfully predictable, but at least we’re a step closer to the trial.
The six accused in the Betty Ketani murder case appeared again in the Johannesburg Magistrate’s court this morning. It was meant to be a routine postponement, but tempers flared up as the length of the delay was argued.
State prosecutor, Namika Kowlas, opened the show with a request for an extra month. She argued the state needs to centralize all of the charges ahead of the trial. This is because some of the alleged crimes took place outside the jurisdiction of the South Gauteng High court. Kowlas and her team therefore need to ask for permission to pull the cases into their own “neighbourhood”, so to speak.
Experienced and cantankerous magistrate, Paul du Plessis, gave Kowlas an unimaginable hard time about her request, asking why they needed a month to do what can be done in two days? He also grilled her about the bones being sent to Bosnia for DNA testing (believed to belong to Betty Ketani). Kowlas was forced to answer questions about when the results will be known and what laws will be used to make them admissible in a South African court.
Lawyer Boesman van der Westhuizen (acting for Carrington Laughton, the alleged author of the confession) than took the stage. He called for the case to be thrown out of court due to unreasonable delays. It’s a common attack (I last remember it from the rhino poaching trial of Chumlong Lemtongthai and friends) and can prove a danger to prosecutors. But the magistrate was having none of it.
Du Plessis told the defense they were “running into a brick wall”, and he had no grounds to withdraw the charges against the accused. His argument was simple: I have to give the state at least one postponement before you can accused them of abusing the postponement system.
Van der Westhuizen fought back, arguing that Laughton’s second son was born on Monday and that his client has already spent six months in jail (It’s actually five months, but the point remains). The lawyer claimed the family was suffering terribly. Du Plessis was not unsympathetic, but said every coin has two sides and the state must be given an opportunity to prepare its case.
The hearing then disintegrated into a bit of a three-way squabble. Van Der Westhuizen accused Kowlas of misleading a high court by assuring it that they were ready to serve indictments on the accused – while were now trying to buy more time. He tried to present case law (including the case of controversial strip club boss Andrew Phillips) but with the magistrate’s constant questions, he never really broke into a gallop.
Eventually, the case was postponed to November 19, 2012, with the understanding that the state would, by then, have it’s house in order. Failing which, the defense could bring an application to have the case flung out, based on malicious delays by prosecutors.
As usual, the families of most of the men were in court. Conway Brown was brought to court separately, by a plain clothed policeman. Paul Toft-Nielsen and Dirk Reynecke (both on bail) decided to suit up for the day. Laughton was wearing his trademark photographer’s vest. Overall, the hearing lasted about an hour.

To read more about the accused, check out the Court Case page.

October 18, 2012

The Woman in the Photograph…

This is an update I wrote for Eyewitness News / The Star (published October 18, 2012). It’s the very latest on the case:

As six men appear in court today in connection with the Betty Ketani murder mystery – police have appealed for help in identifying a crucial witness.
Investigators hope to find the woman in this photograph, which is one of a handful of Polaroids mentioned in court during the bail applications.
Ketani was a mother-of-three who worked as a chef at Cranks restaurant in Rosebank. It’s believed she was kidnapped, murdered and buried in a shallow grave in 1999. The 13-year-old crime may well have remained unsolved were it not for the discovery of a confession letter hidden under a carpet at a house in Kenilworth, in southern Johannesburg.
The letter revealed that this and other photographs were allegedly taken in order to stage a murder that never happened. The woman who was meant to be killed is alive and is likely to be a witness during the trial. The hawks are now trying to find the woman used in the doctored images, which were handed over by the ex-wife of Carrington Laughton, the alleged author of the confession.
Yesterday, he and two other accused failed to have an earlier bail judgment overturned by a higher court. Laughton and two policemen brothers, Carel and David Ranger, argued they were not a threat to the investigation and that the state’s case against them is weak. Laughton also claimed the state was attaching too much weight to the letter, which he denies writing.
But South Gauteng High Court judge, Ramarumo Monama, dismissed these and other arguments, including that Ketani’s body is yet to be found and that the forensics in this case will delay the trial. Several bones have been found and are being sent overseas for DNA analysis.
Judge Monama said Laughton has already been accused of threatening one of his co-accused in jail, while the trio clearly have some kind of a relationship.
“In my opinion the (previous) court was right to have found them to be dangerous,” he ruled. “Taking all the factors, analysis and evaluation, I find no misdirection (by the magistrate) which entitles me to interfere.”
It’s not yet clear whether the three will appeal this ruling further, taking their fight to the Supreme Court of Appeal.
Meanwhile, today all six accused – including Conway Brown, Paul Toft-Nielsen and Dirk Reynecke – are due to return to the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court.
The state is expected to ask for time to centralize all the charges, which stretch across police and court jurisdictions. The trial is not expected to begin until next year.

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