CAPE TOWN, South Africa – A South African accused of being the triggerman in the 2010 honeymoon slaying of a Swedish bride was found guilty Monday, ending his long-delayed trial as the woman’s husband continues to fight extradition over the killing.
Judge Robert Henney gave the verdict Monday in the trial of Xolile Mngeni, charged with killing 28-year-old Anni Dewani. Prosecutors say Mngeni was hired by Dewani’s British husband to carry out the November 2010 killing, which was made to look like a carjacking.
Mngeni, who had surgery in June 2011 to remove a brain tumour, has suffered seizures and black outs and has troubles remembering things, his lawyer has said. The poor health of the 25-year-old has slowed his trial and he appeared thinner on Monday than he had at previous hearings, wearing a white button-up shirt with blue flowers on it. Mngeni needed a walker to make his way into court and he sat without showing much emotion during the proceedings, looking straight ahead at the judge as he spoke and a translator offered his words in the local Xhosa language.
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In his ruling, Henney dismissed claims by Mngeni’s lawyer that his client had been set up for the killing. Henney found Mngeni guilty of premeditated murder, possession of an illegal firearm and ammunition and robbery charges, while acquitting him of kidnapping charges. The judge described the case against Mngeni as “overwhelming” and said an “avalanche of evidence” came crashing down on his claims of innocence.
Mngeni told investigators “where the vehicle was hijacked … where the deceased was shot and where he had hidden the stolen items,” Henney said. “How could he have done this if he wasn’t involved?”
After the hearing, defence lawyer Matthews Dayimani said his client had so far shown no emotion about the verdict.
“I don’t think it has sunk in within him as to what has just transpired,” Dayimani said.
Eric Ntabazalila, a spokesman for South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority, said the government was happy with the judgment.
Mngeni is scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday.
In August, Mngeni’s alleged accomplice Mziwamadoda Qwabe pleaded guilty to charges over the killing, receiving a 25-year prison sentence. Zola Tongo, the taxi driver that police say husband Shrien Dewani asked to plot the killing, earlier pleaded guilty to charges over the slaying and received an 18-year prison sentence. Both Tongo and Qwabe have said Dewani wanted it to look like he wasn’t involved in his wife’s slaying and they planned to have the attack look like a carjacking in Cape Town’s impoverished Gugulethu township.
The men received 15,000 rand (about $2,100) for the killing, Qwabe and prosecutors have said.
In a statement provided as part of his plea deal, Qwabe said that after he and Mngeni staged the fake hijacking, he drove the car as Mngeni kept a 7.62 mm pistol pointed at Anni Dewani in the backseat and then pulled the trigger, the fatal shot going through her neck. Panicked, Qwabe said he stopped the car and got out, helping Mngeni find the spent bullet casing. He threw the casing into a sewer as they ran away into the night.
Officials at first thought the crime was robbery in South Africa, where violent crime is high but attacks on foreign tourists are rare.
Shrien Dewani has denied he hired anyone to kill his wife and was allowed by authorities to leave South Africa for the United Kingdom, where he was later arrested. In March, a U.K. High Court ruled that it would be “unjust and oppressive” to extradite Dewani to South Africa, as his mental condition had worsened since his arrest there. Dewani’s lawyer told the court in a hearing in July that he needed at least a year to recover from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder before being potentially sent back to South Africa.
Ntabazalila declined to discuss what affect the three convictions in South Africa would have on efforts to extradite Dewani, as the man faces a court hearing in London in December.