Najwa accuses her trial judge of bias

Cape Argus

Reporter:  Fatima Schroeder


NAJWA PETERSEN, who is serving 28 years behind bars for orchestrating the murder of her music icon husband, Taliep Petersen, says she did not receive a fair trial. She claims Cape High Court Judge Siraj Desai was biased and pressured witnesses into saying what he wanted them to say. She also alleges he was impatient and followed “irregular” procudure. “The conduct of the honourable judge created the perception that he was biased in his approach to the evidence during the trial and his assessment of the evidence in his judgment,” she claimed. She made the allegations in an affidavit her lawyers filed yesterday at the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein in a bid for leave to appeal against her convictions for murder and robbery with aggravating circumstances. Her petition to the Appeal Court was also served on the local offices of the National Prosecuting Authority today. While Petersen is serving her 28-year sentence i a woman’s prison in Breede River, the hitman, Waheed Hassen, is serving an effective 25 years in jail. Fahiem Hendricks, who had arranged the murder on Petersen’s behalf, turned State witness and was granted immunity from prosecution. Abdoer Raasiet Emjedi – the man who recommended Hassen as a hitman – was sentenced to a 24 years in prison. Petersen’s petition follows Judge Desai’s refusal earlier this month to grant her leave to appeal against her conviction for the December 2006 murder. Judge Desai ruled that there was no prospect of another court coming to a different conclusion. But Petersen, determined to have her conviction overturned, did not stop there. She has sworn to a 163-page affidavit detailing why she believes that Judge Desai’s findings were not correct. Twenty-three pages of her affidavit comprised extracts form the record of the trail, including:

– Judge Desai questioning the first State witness, Riefaat Soeker, who lived in a flat on the Petersens’ premises. He asked the witness: “So your inference that they had a loving relationship is based on a few moments that you saw them on a good footing in that period of nine months?”

– Judge Desai questioning Petersen’s decision to call Taliep’s sister, Ma’atoema Groenmeyer, before the police. “Why did you not call the police? Because if I remember your evidence, there was a robbery in progress,” he said.

– Judge Desai questioning State witness Munaaz Lawrence, who was on duty at the Athlone police station when Groenmeyer arrived there to report the incident. Lawrence testified taht Groenmeyer told her she had heard the gunshot while she was on the phone with Najwa. “Could you be mistaken as to what she said?” Judge Desai asked Lawrence. Lawrence responded that it was possible that she had made a mistake because Groenemeyer spoke fast and she was emotional.

– Judge Desai questioning why Petersen regularly claimed her husband was present when she made calls to Hendricks. Judge Desai asked: “Why do you specifically remember that on five occasions, the deceased was present when you made the calls? I think that is what the prosecutor is trying to get from you. Is there any reason?”

– Judge Desaid questioning her about her supposed “loans” to Hendricks – “a relative stranger”. “Why did you want to help him to such a large extent that you gave him R10000 and then R250000 in diamonds? You displayed a high degree of generosity towards him. What explanation is there for this?”

– He also doubted Petersen’s testimony that she was asleep on the night of the incident and that one of the intruders woke her to demand money. “Instead of waking you up, why did the robbers not ask the deceased where the money was and run away with the money? He would have een perfectly capable of pointing out where the money was and giving the money to them.” Petersen testified that the intruders must have killed her husband because he saw their faces. To this Judge Desai responded: “So you’re speculating on that.”

– Hassen telling the court that Petersen had pulled the trigger herself and that he had folded a pillow around the gun to muffle the sound of the gunshot. Judge Desai referring to photographs of the crime scene and putting it to Petersen “Now tell me, on at least two photographs you see the cover of a cushion. There must have been a cushion (inside the slip) but the police on the scene didn’t find the cushion.” She responded that she did not know what had happened to the cushion or if anyone had interfered with the scene of the murder. Petersen’s previous counsel, Klaus von Lieres und Wilkau SC, cross-examined investigating officer Joash Dryden and put it to Dryden that someone would have seen a cushion at the crime scene if it had been there. Before Dryden answered, Judge Desai added: “Unless it was hidden away somewhere.” In her affidavit, Petersen submitted that she had reasonable prospects of success on appeal and asked for permission to appeal against the decision.

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