A confusing tale of cash, weights and KFC was spun in the Port Elizabeth High Court yesterday as the state’s Section 204 witness changed his tune, claiming to have no knowledge of a hit on Uitenhage teacher Jayde Panayiotou.
A confession and two statements – all detailing his alleged involvement in Jayde’s murder – fell by the wayside as Luthando Siyoni, 36, recanted on his previous version of events.
It was Siyoni’s confession to police shortly after Jayde’s body was discovered on April 22 last year that set police on her husband, Christopher Panayiotou.
Siyoni – backed up by his girlfriend Babalwa Breakfast – told police at the time that Panayiotou, 30, his boss at Infinity Cocktail Bar, had approached him to find people to kill Jayde, 29.
The plan was allegedly for Sizwezakhe Vumazonke and his accomplices to kidnap Jayde from outside her Kabega Park home, drive her to an abandoned field near KwaNobuhle and shoot her.
Siyoni said at the time that he had contacted Vumazonke, the deceased alleged triggerman, via Facebook.
While Panayiotou, Sinethemba Nemembe and Zolani Sibeko have each spent up to 18 months behind bars for the alleged murder, the charges were withdrawn against Siyoni in exchange for his testimony at trial.
He spent months in protective custody before later being sent home.
But yesterday, after a quick glance at the accused in the dock, Siyoni dropped the ball on state advocate Marius Stander with one simple answer: “Never.”
Stander had asked him if he had ever been approached – by anyone – to find a contract killer.
A confident Siyoni, who spent most of the morning seated in the witness box, smiled and laughed at some of his answers.
Interrupting Stander, Siyoni said he wanted to tell the court something.
“I am grateful to be here. I have been looking forward to telling the truth,” he told a sea of shocked faces.
Referring to Stander as “Stan”, Siyoni said new information had come to his attention on Thursday about what he might be asked.
Warning Siyoni in terms of Section 204 of the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA), Judge Dayalin Chetty said: “You are obliged to give evidence in these proceedings. Questions may be put to you that incriminate you.
“If you answer honestly and frankly you shall be discharged from prosecution [on charges of conspiracy to commit murder, murder, robbery and defeating the ends of justice].”
Last month, Breakfast was arrested for perjury after she, too, recanted on her statement.
She had told police prior to her boyfriend’s arrest that the R30 000 found in his gym bag was payment for the hit on Jayde.
In court she backtracked, claiming the money was for the upgrade of Siyoni’s Zwide gym.
Advocate Richard Crompton, a member of the National Bar Council of SA, explained yesterday that a possible perjury charge was now the least of Siyoni’s problems.
Crompton said the state would almost certainly ask at the end of the case that it be found that Siyoni was not a truthful and frank witness. If the court agrees, he, too, could stand trial for Jayde’s murder.
He explained the process that follows: “It is ultimately to the discretion of the National Prosecuting Authority, but if the judge doesn’t find that the Section 204 witness answered frankly and honestly, then he may be charged and stand trial for the murder.
“As strange as it may sound, the job of the Section 204 witness is to incriminate himself if he wants to avoid prosecution for the charges he is implicated in.”
However, the difficulty the state now faces is, should they wish to charge Siyoni, according to Section 204 of the CPA, his testimony in court will not be admissible in his trial.
Siyoni testified yesterday that a mutual acquaintance had introduced him to Panayiotou, and some time in 2014 he had started working at Infinity in Algoa Park.
He said he did not know Nemembe or Sibeko.
Siyoni became friendly with Panayiotou, who also helped him to save money for the development of his gym.
Because he spent a lot of money, he left the majority of his cash in a bank bag in a safe at Infinity.
He said Panayiotou had often visited him at home or at his gym.
Asked by Stander if Panayiotou sometimes worked out there, he retorted with a laugh: “No, he is a lazy person.”
He said he had only ever seen Jayde once, when she visited Infinity, did not know where she lived or worked or how she got to Riebeek College.
Asked whether he could drive and why he had inquired about renting a vehicle, Siyoni said he did not have a driver’s licence and had only done research for a friend.
The state alleges Vumazonke hired a car to carry out the murder.
The day Jayde went missing, Siyoni said, he had gone to Infinity to look for Panayiotou because he wanted his money that had been left there.
He needed it to pay Vumazonke for weights he had helped him to purchase for the gym.
He said Vumazonke had been the “middleman” for the weights and had become desperate for his money, constantly phoning him that day.
He said he had spoken to a “sad” Panayiotou that night. “I told him to be strong.” He met up with him later and assisted in the search for Jayde.
Panayiotou gave him R2 000, which he pulled out of his pocket so that he could pay Vumazonke for the weights.
Much later, he went with Vumazonke to KFC in Njoli Square and paid him the rest of the money owed.
He said he was hungry because Breakfast had eaten the KFC he bought earlier.
The trial continues on Monday.