British millionaire Dewani cleared of honeymoon murder
Millionaire British businessman Shrien Dewani walked free Monday after a South African judge cleared him of murdering his Swedish bride after a sensational trial where his sexuality played a key role.
The shock judgement in what became known as the “honeymoon murder” case left Dewani’s mother weeping with relief in court while his late wife’s family wept bitter tears.
Prosecutors said Dewani hired hitmen to kill 28-year-old Anni in a staged hijacking in Cape Town during their honeymoon in November 2010, because he is gay and felt trapped into marriage by family pressures.
Dewani says he is bisexual and loved Anni.
Both families are of Indian origin and had sat across the courtroom from each other since the trial began in October with graphic video of Anni’s body in a short black evening dress sprawled across the seat of a taxi.
She had been killed with a single shot, execution style, prosecutors said, after the hijackers allowed Dewani out of the vehicle and drove off with her.
Judge Jeannette Traverso said the state’s evidence had “fallen far below” the level needed to secure a conviction and it would be unjust to force Dewani to testify in his own defence in the hope that he would incriminate himself.
The judge conceded there were “a number of unanswered questions” about the murder and acknowledged “strong public opinion” that Dewani should take the stand.
Traverso also noted a plea by the murdered woman’s family that Dewani should not be allowed to walk free without testifying, but said her ruling was based on law and could not be influenced by emotion.
Prosecutors told AFP they cannot appeal, and Dewani was expected to leave South Africa as soon as possible.
Dressed in an immaculate suit and tie, with his greying hair cropped short, 34-year-old Dewani often appeared nervous in the dock, with his head snapping around at any sudden sound, but he looked unemotional as he left the court.
– ‘Justice failed us’ –
Anni’s sister Ami Denborg told an international media scrum on the steps of the high court: “Justice has failed us.
Speaking on behalf of the Hindocha family she said they were sad that Dewani had not given them the full story about his lifestyle.
“We just wish Shrien had been honest with us and especially Anni,” she said.
The family has said Anni would not have married Dewani if she had known of his sexuality.
In a written statement to the court on the first day of his trial — in an apparent effort to pre-empt the argument that he killed his wife because he was gay — Dewani admitted to sex with male prostitutes but said he considered himself to be bisexual.
The judge later rejected as irrelevant testimony from a major state witness, sado-masochism “master” and gay prostitute Leopold Leisser, who reportedly told British police that Dewani had said he was getting married to a “lovely girl” but needed “to find a way out of it”.
The court did, however, hear that Anni sent Dewani desperate emails just days after their lavish wedding ceremony in Mumbai questioning his “feelings” for her.
“I don’t want an insecure man or a man whose feelings doesn’t come naturally that you have to force yourself,” Anni Dewani, 28, wrote on November 5, 2010.
She was killed eight days later.
The ruling is a blow to the reputation of South Africa’s state prosecutors, coming after a lengthy and costly battle to extradite Dewani from Britain after the murder in November 2010.
It also follows their failure to secure a murder conviction against Paralympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius at his equally sensational trial earlier this year for shooting dead his girfriend.
The judge said evidence given by taxi driver Zola Tongo that implicated Dewani in a murder plot was “highly improbable,” while another prosecution witness was described as a “self-confessed liar”.
Tongo and one of the hijackers — both serving long jail terms for the murder — told the court that Dewani hired them for 15,000 rand ($1,300) to kill his new wife.
Dewani said in his statement that he had offered 15,000 rand to the taxi driver to arrange a private helicopter tour of Cape Town as a surprise for his bride.
Prosecutors never got the chance to cross-examine Dewani on why he was willing to pay an unknown taxi driver so much in cash to organise a trip that could have been handled by his top-class hotel.
A small but vocal protest group chanted “Justice for Anni” as her weeping family left, accusing the judge of favouring lawyers hired by the wealthy Dewani family.
South Africans have been outraged by the idea that Dewani believed he could get away with murdering his wife because of the country’s notoriously high crime rate.