‘Do not push me,’ advocate tells Derek Inggs amid setbacks for the defence
HEATED argument from the bar over whether or not murder accused Christopher Panayiotou should be granted bail spilt over into the gallery yesterday, resulting in a scuffle between one of his lawyers and his former father-in-law.
Shortly before this, lead counsel Advocate Mike Hellens SC had told the Grahamstown High Court that there was nothing particularly special about this case, barring the hype around it.
“Don’t lock people up who are innocent until proven guilty just to satisfy the blood lust of the ill-informed public,” Hellens said over a murmur in the courtroom.
Panayiotou’s lawyers had argued for his release on bail, even offering to up his bail amount from R50 000 to R200 000 and saying that he would hire security guards, at his own cost, to watch his every move.
But much of their argument was shot down by Judge Glenn Goosen, who had also ruled against the defence’s application to submit new evidence earlier in the day.
Panayiotou, 28, is accused of orchestrating the murder of his schoolteacher wife, Jayde, 29, in April.
Hellens argued that magistrate Abigail Beeton had misdirected herself in the Port Elizabeth Magistrate’s Court last month by relying too heavily on the prosecution’s submissions that Panayiotou was a flight risk and would interfere with the state’s case.
Hellens was assisted by Advocate Terry Price SC and lawyer Alwyn Griebenow.
During the tea adjournment, and caught on camera by eNCA, Price is seen nudging Jayde’s father, Derek Inggs, from behind, before telling him: “Do not push me.”
Price would only say yesterday that Inggs had pushed him first and he retaliated.
Meanwhile, Hellens argued that it was a “double agent” who had tricked Panayiotou into a meeting with his co-accused, and baited him into a conversation the state was now using to try to prove Panayiotou orchestrated the kidnapping and murder of Jayde.
Hellens said Warrant Officer Leon Eksteen, who was involved with the initial search for Jayde and the subsequent murder investigation, had convinced Panayiotou to meet Luthando Siyoli, 31, the alleged middleman, to obtain information about the killing of his wife.
A recording of this meeting has been brought to court and paints a damning picture of plans and payments made to have Jayde killed.
The defence argued that Eksteen encouraged Panayiotou to make contact with Siyoli, who he knew was being investigated by the police, so that he could “ascertain from him in a roundabout way” what Siyoli knew about the case. Eksteen then shared this information with the police, while also sharing insights from the investigation with the Panayiotou family, hence playing the role of a double agent.
State advocate Marius Stander, however, refuted the claims, quoting extracts from the recording that he said incriminated Panayiotou and played to the strength of the state’s case.
“I told you, let them do it outside the house … This thing has cost me a lot of money,” is one extract.
Stander argued that if Eksteen had convinced Panayiotou to gather information about Siyoli’s involvement in his wife’s murder, why would Panayiotou instruct him to destroy evidence, like cellphones and SIM cards, that could be used as evidence against Siyoli.
Hellens, meanwhile, said there was nothing strange about Panayiotou meeting Siyoli to give him money because he was, after all, his employee.
Family and friends of both Jayde and her husband followed the proceedings with much interest from the front row of the public gallery.
The two groups were separated by a single open seat, but never interacted in any way.
Jayde’s family members were all dressed in black T-shirts with yellow print, which read on the front, “Hope is the only thing stronger than fear”, while the back said “#justiceforJAYDE”, referring to the social media campaign following the progress of the court proceedings.
Arguments in the bail appeal were heard shortly after Goosen dealt the defence its first blow when he refused to accept new evidence as part of their second attempt at bail.
Applications to submit pictures allegedly supporting the defence’s argument that a confession was beaten out of Siyoli, and to see affidavits made by Panayiotou’s mistress, Chanelle Coutts, and her friend, Clarissa Kapp, were refused, and Goosen said he would give the reasons for his decision with his judgment next Tuesday.
After Siyoli’s arrest, he was taken to the Fort Beaufort police station where officers noted his “left swollen eye before arrest”.
The defence attempted to submit prints of CCTV footage from the Infinity Club where Siyoli was arrested, claiming that this showed he had no such injuries.
“If you can see his eye is swollen, you have better vision than I have,” Goosen told Hellens while studying the picture, before refusing the application.
Hellens said the fact that Panayiotou had applied for a Cypriot passport and held dual citizenship was blown out of proportion, and he had strong family ties and business commitments that would keep him from fleeing.
Once again much was made of the conditions inside St Albans Prison, where Panayiotou is being held, and Hellens argued that both overcrowded communal cells and extended periods of solitude in single cells were not suitable for a person who was “innocent until proven guilty”.
He said Beeton’s comments in refusing bail, that prison was not a holiday away from home, were callous and misdirected.
Stander replied that releasing Panayiotou simply because he was used to a higher standard of living and not used to the conditions in prison would be a mistake.
Goosen said he needed time to consider his judgment, which would be handed down next Tuesday.