South Africa News

Durban mechanic acquitted for friend’s murder sentenced for prison break & firearm possession

A Reservoir Hills mechanic, who was acquitted of murdering and robbing his ‘friend’ Navendran Govender in March 2019 but convicted on two related charges, was sentenced to eight years imprisonment at the Durban High Court this week.

Ashen Vishnudath, 30, was already in custody for four years whilst his trial was on, bar the two months when he was on the run, after managing to break out of Westville Prison in August 2019.

Vishnudath appeared before Judge Jacqueline Henriques for sentencing on Monday.

He was seated in a Nissan Almera parked on Stanton Street, Reservoir Hills, with Govender, 30, also a mechanic, on March 6, 2019.

Vishnudath apparently wanted to sell the car to Govender.

His version was that they were about to conclude a deal for the vehicle when they got into a tussle, and Govender drew a firearm and attempted to shoot at him.

He acted in self-defence, three shots were fired during the struggle, all of which struck the deceased’s head, near his left ear.

Vishnudath loaded Govender’s body into the car and dumped it near the Giba Gorge Mountain Bike Park, Pinetown, drove to Johannesburg to “clear his mind” before handing himself over to police.

He escaped from Westville Prison on August 15, whilst awaiting trial, having become acquainted with a fellow inmate who was unable to pay bail of R300.

Using the inmate’s details, he made a new prisoner’s card, which bore the inmate’s details.

He paid the R300, was released and fled the country.

Vishnudath’s father Raj and two of his friends were charged for assisting him escape.

He was rearrested at an Umbilo hideout and eventually pleaded guilty to the related charge.

State advocate Cheryl Naidu led Satish Batchu, a witness, during proceedings, who confirmed that he and Vishnudath drank alcohol on Stanton Street, earlier on the day of Govender’s demise.

Vishnudath brandished a revolver, which was not disputed in court, and the investigating officer, warrant officer Bob Pillay of the KZN Provincial Task Team, confirmed in court that the accused was not licensed to possess a firearm.

The initial charges included murder and robbery with aggravating circumstances, but Judge Henriques eventually convicted him on the unlawful firearm possession and prison break charges only.

Based on Vishnudath’s self-defence claim and the forensic evidence presented, she dismissed the murder charge, even though she was cognisant of the fact that his version was not entirely truthful.

“Once his (Vishnudath) version is reasonably possibly true, he is entitled to the benefit of the doubt”, Henriques said, taking into account the ‘mosaic of the evidence’ presented to her.

In respect of the possession of the firearm charge, Henriques sentenced him to seven years imprisonment, of which three years were suspended for a period of five years on condition he did not repeat the offence in that period.

He received four years of incarceration for escaping prison.

Henriques stated that the sentences would not run concurrently.

Before handing the sentences, Henriques considered the pre-sentencing report of a probation officer.

The officer reported that Vishnudath was “family orientated and was their primary provider, especially to his young daughter”, and believed direct imprisonment seemed unavoidable.

However, the official felt it “might cause stern repercussions for his family. Therefore, “a fine was most appropriate”.

Ravindra Maniklal, Vishnudath’s attorney, agreed that correctional supervision and a fine was appropriate for his client.

Naidu said the entire foundation for the conclusions reached by the officer was non-existent and the officer conceded that she had been lied to by the accused and his family, after the State’s cross examination.

Henriques concurred and also rejected the report.

She noted that the accused had three minor previous convictions but did not mention it, he was drinking alcohol heavily on the day of the incident and consumed crack cocaine, and other substances at the time and “never played a role in his child’s life”.

Henriques pointed out that Vishnudath did not divulge all the details of the prison break to the probation officer and had contact with his family, especially the father.

“The report cannot be relied on as it is based on the lies of the accused, his father and other family members.

‘The accused and his family cannot be trusted. They will protect and lie for him.

“There is simply no other option but direct imprisonment,” said Henriques.

Govender’s father, Sam, said he felt Vishnudath had gotten off lightly.

“It has left me heartsore. The witnesses and their evidence is all there.

“I still have some unanswered questions after the judgement and sentencing,” said the father.

“Why was the fact that he (Vishnudath) moved and dumped my son’s body 30 kilometres away not considered?

“If he acted in self-defence, why did he not alert the authorities instead of dumping the body and running away?

“If my son was the one pulling the trigger. How was he still able to fire the gun two more times after the first bullet struck him in the head?”, he asked.

-Sunday Tribune

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