State, defence gear up for keenly anticipated clash in Panayiotou trial

State advocate Marius Stander File picture: Eugene Coetzee
State advocate Marius Stander
File picture: Eugene Coetzee

It’s crunch time. It all comes down to this as the defence and state gear up for what is arguably the most anticipated trial of the year.

The epic battle commences on Tuesday as the prosecution attempts to convince the Eastern Cape’s foremost judge that Christopher Panayiotou, 29, is guilty – of murder – beyond a reasonable doubt.

The onus rests on the state, who will have to show Judge Dayalin Chetty how Panayiotou hired a bouncer at his nightclub to recruit hitmen to kidnap and execute Jayde, 29, in April last year.

State advocate Marius Stander will rely heavily on circumstantial evidence, focusing predominantly on cellphone tower plotting, not to mention a video filmed during an undercover sting operation – which is sure to become the subject of a trial-within-a-trial early on.

Panayiotou’s lawyers have already indicated that they will attack the evidence of the state’s key witness, self-confessed middleman Luthando Siyoni, from the onset. They claim he was beaten into making a confession.

Christopher Panayiotou's lawyer Advocate Terry Price File picture: Eugene Coetzee
Christopher Panayiotou’s lawyer Advocate Terry Price File picture: Eugene Coetzee

Advocate Terry Price SC says they have enough evidence to have his confession ruled inadmissible.

Siyoni, who was the first to be nabbed by police last year, quickly turned state witness and has been in protective custody ever since.

Price believes he was tortured into making that confession.

Another hurdle for the state is the video evidence of Panayiotou chatting to Siyoni just before his arrest.

In the video, Panayiotou can allegedly be seen patting Siyoni down to check for police wiring.

He allegedly then tells Siyoni to destroy his phone and go into hiding.

In a similar case dubbed the “honeymoon murder”, two men who hijacked Anni Dewani while she was on honeymoon in SA changed their versions to secure an attractive plea bargain, claiming Anni’s husband, Shrien, hired them to make the hit look like a hijacking.

The allegations made global headlines, with the National Prosecuting Authority having to fight for Shrien to be extradited back to SA.

But the men’s testimony in court was so poor they were instead found guilty of perjury and Shrien acquitted of involvement.

Further hurdles for the state in the Panayiotou case include the fact that the firearm used to murder Jayde was never recovered, and the suspected trigger man, Sizwezakhe Vumazonke, who was the alleged link between Siyoni and the other hitmen, has since died.

Sinethemba Nemembe and Zolani Sibeko have reportedly been linked to the offence through a cyber fingerprint – their cellphones.

Cellphone expert Thereza May Botha will paint a picture for the court how the men worked together, with their cellphones clocking in at each tower as they pulled off their plan.

And although the defence has kept the identities of its expert witnesses secret, they will no doubt closely match Stander’s witnesses.

Rumblings about Vumazonke possibly being poisoned to stop him from coming clean remain unproven. His lawyer, Michelle Blignaut, said this week an inquest had been opened into his death but the cause of death was still unknown.

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