The murder trial of Christopher Panayiotou and his two suspected hitmen will go ahead as scheduled, the prosecution said following the death of alleged triggerman Sizwezakhe Vumazonke yesterday.
Vumazonke, 35, allegedly hired by Panayiotou to kidnap and murder his wife, Jayde, died in Livingstone Hospital early yesterday.
The prosecution is now waiting for the results of a toxicology report after fears surfaced that he may have been poisoned.
It was revealed in the Port Elizabeth High court on Monday that Vumazonke had slipped into a coma after a short illness while in custody at St Albans Prison.
On two occasions – on Monday and last month – pre-trial proceedings had to be postponed in the Port Elizabeth High Court as a result of his condition.
His lawyer, Michelle Blignaut, said Vumazonke had first complained of a cold about a month ago, but his condition had quickly deteriorated, with him battling to walk, then to speak, and by Monday he was in a coma.
“I was at Livingstone Hospital [yesterday] morning to see how he was doing and was [told] by his doctors he had died,” a shocked Blignaut said.
She informed Vumazonke’s two sisters of his death.
National Prosecuting Authority provincial spokesman Tsepo Ndwalaza said they were awaiting answers on the cause of death.
“We can confirm, however, that the trial will proceed as planned and the trial date will not change,” he said.
The state was confident in its case and that Vumazonke’s death would not affect its evidence against the remaining accused, he said.
Vumazonke was accused with Sinethemba Nemembe and Zolani Sibeko of kidnapping and murdering Jayde, 29, in April last year.
The state claims they acted on instruction of Panayiotou, who allegedly paid a middleman to organise the hit.
The self-confessed middleman, Luthando Siyoni, has turned state witness and is in police protective custody.
Jayde’s friend, Debbie Godfrey, called for calm on the Justice for Jayde Inggs Facebook page yesterday, saying the family continued to place their faith in the investigating team.
“What happened today is not on but we need to let the investigating team do their job.”
“They have been brilliant so far in this case and I have no doubt they will establish what has happened,” Godfrey wrote.
Jayde’s sister, Toni Inggs, declined to comment.
Criminal lawyer Kuban Chetty, who is not involved in the case, said it was difficult to say yet what impact Vumazonke’s death would have on the state or defence’s case.
Chetty said it was likely the defence would submit that certain evidence regarding Vumazonke – which may crop up at trial – should be considered as hearsay as it could not be tested against his version.
While trial has been set down for October 10, pre-trial motions are due to be heard on September 15.