Panayiotou’s defence team wants judge removed from case
An incriminating video recording of murder accused Christopher Panayiotou has been ruled admissible – but it will not be viewed just yet as his lawyers now want the presiding judge to recuse himself. Stumped by Judge Dayalin Chetty’s decision to allow the sting video into evidence without giving immediate reasons for his ruling, Advocate Terry Price SC said he felt like he was litigating in the dark.
“I need to do what’s best for my client. If this goes the wrong way, my client could be sentenced to life in prison,” an emotional Price said.
He said he felt like Panayiotou’s right to a fair trial had been prejudiced.
The shock bid to have the judge removed from the case comes after Price’s application for a postponement was shot down by the court.
Price had asked the Port Elizabeth High Court for some time to consult with his seniors.
Chetty found the secret recording – in which Panayiotou, 30, chats to self-confessed middleman Luthando Siyoni shortly after the murder of Panayiotou’s wife Jayde – to be admissible following a lengthy trial-within-a-trial.
Family and friends of Jayde, 29, cheered in the gallery as Chetty gave his ruling. But their happiness turned swiftly to tears of frustration.
Policemen who had helped with the investigation, and were all subjected to stringent cross-examination in court, filled the courtroom gallery yesterday.
Chetty said he would give the reasons for his ruling in conjunction with his main judgment at the end of the trial.
But before state advocate Marius Stander could proceed with his next witness, who was waiting in the wings, Price interjected, saying he needed to do what was best for his client.
He said he had received instructions from Panayiotou’s family to seek advice on a way forward from Advocate Dup de Bruyn SC, who has successfully represented the likes of Stellenbosch murder accused Fred van der Vyver.
He said De Bruyn was tied up in a trial in Mthatha and was not immediately available.
Price said that without knowing why Chetty decided to allow the recording into evidence – despite vehement claims from the defence that Siyoni had been beaten by police and forced to implicate his former boss – he would be litigating in the dark.
The defence wanted the video ruled inadmissible based on the “fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine”.
“I need to know if you found that Siyoni wasn’t assaulted at all, and if I then need to change strategy,” Price said. “We have been on the back foot from the word go. “I have been subjected to insults from the public gallery, the press and on social media and not once has the court [intervened].”
He said the Panayiotou family had been told by members of the public they should all be hanged.
“I am begging you from the bottom of my heart for a postponement.”
Price said he had put two weeks of hard work into his heads of argument (to have the video ruled out), but this had obviously meant nothing to the judge.
But shortly after Price’s pleas were turned down, he changed strategy, informing Chetty he now wished to bring an application for the judge’s recusal due to Panayiotou not being granted a fair trial.
Price said he, too, was close to withdrawing from the case.
Jayde’s younger sister, Toni Inggs, and mom, Michelle, fought back tears. Chetty will hear the application tomorrow morning. Panayiotou is accused of orchestrating the Uitenhage schoolteacher’s kidnapping and murder in April 2015. It is alleged he paid Siyoni – who has since recanted on his confession – to find hitmen to kidnap and kill Jayde.
Panayiotou, alleged hitman Sinethemba Nemembe and co-conspirator Zolani Sibeko have pleaded not guilty to the charges.