Shrien Dewani trial resumes after killer's death in prison

Shrien Dewani at murder trial

Anni Dewani's cousin Sneha Mashru takes the witness stand as honeymoon murder trial continues

LAST UPDATED AT 14:41 ON Mon 20 Oct 2014

The trial of honeymoon murder suspect Shrien Dewani has resumed today after one of his wife's killers died in prison over the weekend.

Anni Dewani was shot on 13 November 2010 after the couple's car was hijacked during their honeymoon in Cape Town.

Xolile Mngeni, who was serving a 25-year prison sentence for firing the shot that killed Anni, died in the hospital wing of Goodwood Prison in Cape Town on Saturday. He was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour soon after his arrest in 2011.

The National Prosecuting Authority has said Mngeni's death will not have an impact on the murder trial.

It was unclear if the prosecution had planned to call Mngeni to testify against Dewani, who is accused of organising his wife's murder. Franaaz Khan, a law lecturer from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, previously said that the other two men involved in the killing – Zola Tongo and Mziwamadoda Qwabe – were more likely to be relied upon as witnesses.

They both pleaded guilty and agreed to be state witnesses as part of their plea bargain, whereas Mngeni denied his guilt.

Qwabe gave evidence last week, but the trial was subsequently postponed because one of the prosecution lawyers had chicken pox.

The court has today heard from The Sun journalist Nick Parker and Anni's cousin Sneha Mashru.

Here is what we have heard so far:

2.30pm: Anni Dewani's cousin Sneha Mashru is giving evidence. She has told the Cape Town court that Anni was thinking of divorcing Shrien just days before she was killed. Mashru claims Anni was texting her from South Africa during her honeymoon, saying: "What should I do? I am really trying...." On 11 November, two days before she died, things appeared to improve. Anni text her cousin saying: "Hi, it's much better now. Going better than before. Hate the word divorce." That was the last time the cousins were in contact.

Mashru also said Shrien and Anni rarely saw each other while they were engaged and that, in her view, Shrien acted strangely after his wife was killed. Mashru told the court that Shrien had all the funeral arrangements on a spreadsheet. "He also said: 'Do not ever repeat this to anyone else. The reason why Anni was shot was because she was screaming,'" she said. "He said had she not been screaming, she wouldn't have been shot." 

In the days before the funeral, Mashru said she went to the funeral parlour to dress Anni and do her make-up. "Shrien's mum and aunt were there," she told the court. "He was treating the body, not with love. He was squeezing the bangles. She was swollen. I said: 'Stop, you're hurting her.' 

Mashru made a secret recording of a meeting held to clear the air between her family and the Dewanis after Anni's death. In the transcript, Shrien makes no mention of his meeting with Tongo, the taxi driver, who was later convicted for his part in organising Anni's murder, nor the money that Shrien later claimed he gave to Tongo because he "felt sorry for him". On cross-examination, Mashru says it was not an arranged marriage and that Anni did in fact love Shrien.

10.30am: The Sun reporter Nick Parker, who has been a journalist for 26 years, is testifying. He interviewed Shrien Dewani in Max Clifford's offices after Anni's death. A copy of the interview has been handed to the court. Parker says Shrien was "reasonably calm" at the beginning but became quite distressed as the interview progressed. Shrien said Anni wanted to see African nightlife and had wanted to do an African dance at a family member's baby shower, Parker tells the court

In December 2010, Parker also interviewed Leopold Leisser, a gay escort who claimed Shrien had paid him for sex and was desperate to get out of his marriage. Parker put the claims to Clifford, who was Shrien's publicist at the time. Shrien's solicitors responded that Leisser had invented the story and that their client was at the gym or with his family at the times specified. Shrien's defence lawyer Peet Van Zyl tells the court that the solicitors' letter was written on the instructions of Shrien's brother Preyen. He suggests that Leisser was paid £30,000 for the story. Parker says he cannot recall.

Sneha Mashru, Anni's cousin, takes the witness stand. She tells the court that she and Anni grew up together and were more like sisters than cousins. "She confided in me and told me things she wouldn't tell her sister/brother," she says.

 

Shrien Dewani: five key quotes from the murder trial so far

17 October

The trial of honeymoon murder suspect Shrien Dewani began with a surprise statement about his sexuality and has been punctuated by dramatic moments ever since. It has taken four years to get the British millionaire into court for the trial, following a long extradition process from the UK to South Africa. His wife Anni Dewani was shot dead on 13 November 2010 after the couple were driven in a taxi through a township near Cape Town during their honeymoon. Shrien is accused of ordering the murder. Three South African men – Zola Tongo, Mziwamadoda Qwabe and Xolile Mngeni – have already been convicted in relation to her death. Shrien has pleaded not guilty to the five charges against him, which include murder, kidnapping and obstructing justice.

With the trial due to resume on Monday, here are five key quotes so far:

Shrien Dewani: "I have had sexual interaction with both males and females"

On the very first day of the trial Shrien admitted that he considered himself bisexual. Rumours of his "secret homosexuality" had circulated since just after Anni's death, but he had always denied them. In a statement, read out by his lawyer Peet Van Zyl, he said his sexual interactions with men were "mostly physical experiences" or email chats with people he met online or in clubs and included prostitutes. The admission appears to have taken the sting out the state's case, which was expected to argue that Shrien was gay and plotted to have his wife killed to escape his marriage.

Mziwamadoda Qwabe: "There was a husband who wanted his wife killed"

Qwabe, who is currently serving 25 years in prison for Anni's murder, is seen as a key witness in the trial. He told the court that a price of 15,000 rand, just £834 at today's exchange rate, was agreed to kill her. Asked if he knew ahead of the murder that Dewani wanted her dead, Qwabe said he was told "there was a husband who wanted his wife killed". The two other convicts, Qwabe's associate Mngeni and the Dewanis' taxi driver Tongo, may also give evidence against Shrien.

Shrien Dewani: "I really do love you... I want to be with you forever"

At the beginning of the trial Van Zyl read out a letter from Shrien to Anni, written after an "angry disagreement" on 24 May 2010. Taken at face value, the letter suggests Shrien was in love with his wife, despite the fact that he admits they argued frequently. It conflicts with claims by Leopold Leisser, a male escort based in the UK, who said Shrien was "desperate" to get out of his marriage. Sneha Mashru, Anni's cousin, also reportedly told British police that they had a troubled relationship. It is possible that Leisser and Mashru will be called to testify for the state.

Peet Van Zyl: "It has all the hallmarks of a shot that went off when it wasn't meant to go off"

In a surprise move, Shrien's defence lawyer cast doubt on the belief that Qwabe's associate Mngeni was the one to shoot Anni. Van Zyl said that gunpowder found on Qwabe's gloves suggested it was him who murdered Anni. "The injuries caused by that bullet are not what the pathologists would normally see in an execution-type killing," said Van Zyl. The lawyer suggested that Qwabe killed Anni by accident as he tried to pull her out of the car, possibly to rape her in the scrubland. This would provide a very different explanation for Anni's death to the one put forward by the state. Qwabe denied Van Zyl's claims.

Judge Jeanette Traverso: "Why is his sexuality relevant?"

On Tuesday, the judge stopped the prosecution from reading out a series of sexually graphic emails from Shrien to a mystery third person. Prosecutor Adrian Mopp tried to argue that they were relevant because they showed Shrien was conflicted about whether to get married or to come out as gay. "Obviously it is not a motive to kill but the man expresses a conflict within himself," Mopp told the judge. But Traverso said that, because of Dewani's admission, his sexuality was no longer in dispute and ruled the evidence inadmissible. This came as a shock to the prosecutors, who will potentially have to rethink who they call as witnesses.

 

Shrien Dewani: graphic emails barred by judge in blow for state

14 October

The judge in the trial of British millionaire Shrien Dewani has prevented a series of sexually graphic emails from being read out in court. In excluding the evidence put forward by the prosecution, Judge Jeanette Traverso questioned whether Shrien's conflicted feelings about his sexuality would really provide a motive to kill.

Dewani is accused of ordering his wife Anni's murder on their honeymoon in South Africa on 13 November 2010. The couple were held at gunpoint while being driven in a taxi through a township near Cape Town. Shrien was thrown from the taxi and Anni was later found dead in the back seat. The state is expected to argue that Shrien, from Bristol, is gay and plotted to have his wife killed to escape a marriage that he was pushed into by his family.

Here is what we have heard today: 

Midday: Mark Roberts leaves the witness stand. Next up is South African police officer George Stefanus. He was called on the night of the murder by taxi driver Zola Tongo. Stefanus says Shrien was "emotional" when he met him at Cape Grace hotel that night. Shrien apparently told him that his wife Anni "insisted" she wanted to see life in Cape Town's townships.

However, defence lawyer Francois Van Zyl suggests that the statement taken by Stefanus on behalf of Shrien that night was not wholly accurate. Van Zyl confirms that Dewani did not read through this initial statement and simply signed it and that the statement was not sworn under oath. The lawyer says the word "township" written in the statement was not even in his client's vocabulary at that time. The court has also heard how Stefanus lost his pocket-book containing his notes from interviewing Dewani on the night of the murder.

 

Another witness, the owner of a jewellery shop who buys and sells coins, begins to tell the court how she exchanged money with Dewani. However, the court is abruptly adjourned until Monday with the news that one of the prosecution team has chickenpox.

10.00am: The first witness on the stand today is Mark Roberts, a computer expert from the UK's National Crime Agency, transferred from the Metropolitan Police. He investigated Shrien's laptop and found a lot of email activity between the defendant and a "third person" whose identity is being protected. They exchanged 53 messages between June and August 2009, says Roberts.

Shrien's defence lawyer Francois Van Zyl objects to the emails being read out in court. He says they are "highly prejudicial" to his client because of their graphic sexual nature. The state argues that the emails provide "context" and an "insight" into the relationship Shrien had with the third party. Judge Jeanette Traverso says that the relationship pre-dates the offence by more than a year and questions the relevance of the emails. "[Shrien] was conflicted about whether to get married or whether to come out," says the prosecutor.  "And what does that provide, motive to kill?" asks Judge Traverso. The state says it is "not a motive to kill" but shows that Shrien was conflicted within himself. "That's true for many people," says the judge.

Van Zyl says that the email conversations relate to sexual preferences and go into graphic detail. The "third person" tells Dewani that marriage is a "serious commitment, because it usually involves children, but if he wants to do, he will support him".

After a short break, Judge Traverso rules that the emails are inadmissible. Shrien's sexuality is "irrelevant" because he has already admitted his bisexuality and the graphic content is unnecessary, says Traverso.

Shrien Dewani trial: defence makes ransom and rape claims

13 October

The defence lawyer for honeymoon murder suspect Shrien Dewani has accused a state witness of accidentally shooting Anni Dewani as he tried to pull her out of a taxi to rape her. Mziwamadoda Qwabe, who is serving 25 years in prison for charges related to Anni's murder, is currently giving evidence in court.

Two other men – Zola Tongo and Xolile Mngeni – have also been convicted of charges related to Anni's murder. It was believed Mngeni was the one who fired the shot that killed her on 13 November 2010. Anni and Shrien were held at gunpoint while being driven in a taxi through a township near Cape Town while on their honeymoon. Shrien was thrown from the taxi and Anni was later found dead in the back seat. The state is expected to argue that Shrien, from Bristol, is gay and plotted to have his wife killed to escape a marriage that he was pushed into by his family.

But today defence lawyer Francois Van Zyl has claimed it was Qwabe who shot Anni, not Mngeni, and that the murder happened by accident: 

2.00pm: The court is hearing from Simon Johnson, a British IT expert who worked for Gaydar, which calls itself "the premier gay dating site". Johnson explains to the court how Gaydar works, describing it as a "dating and personals website" with profiles, chat rooms and pictures. He is asked specifically about the Asiansubguy account used by Shrien. The last log-in was when Shrien removed the account on 21 November 2010, eight days after Anni's death. 

The court hears that it cost Shrien £60 for one year's Gaydar membership. On his profile, he described himself as a single gay man and a "passive, sub guy" looking for "single gay man, gay couple, bi-couple, group". Questions turn to exactly how a Gaydar profile can be accessed.  Johnson says that sometimes a Gaydar user's details are saved for the next session, but they always have to manually click to log in. This potentially undermines any attempt by the defence to argue that Shrien's computer automatically logged him onto the site during his honeymoon.

11.00am: Van Zyl casts doubt on the evidence being given by prosecution witness Mziwamadoda Qwabe. He claims there were two firearms in the car, not one, as Qwabe has claimed. The lawyer also suggests Qwabe's associate Mngeni was in the back of the car with the Dewanis not in the front as Qwabe has previously said. Van Zyl asks Qwabe why the gloves he wore on the night were found with gunshot residue on them. Qwabe says there may have been explosive residue on them from when the gun went off in the car or when he retrieved the bullet casing. 

In a dramatic new line of questioning, the defence lawyer suggests it was Qwabe, not Mngeni, who shot Anni as he was trying to get her out of car to rape her. He suggests Shrien was set free because the carjackers planned to demand a ransom. During his cross examination, Van Zyl has suggested that Shrien will take the witness box at some point in the trial. Qwabe denies that it was him who fired the shot.

 


More about Shrien Dewani:

Shrien Dewani described himself as 'perverted' on GaydarShrien Dewani reveals he is bisexual on first day of murder trial Shrien Dewani: what we know about the honeymoon murder caseMurder suspect loses bid to block extradition Shrien Dewani family welcome 'significant' Panorama findings

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