A hitman accused of pulling the trigger in the murder of newlywed Anni Dewani during her South African honeymoon has been convicted of murder.
Prosecutors believe Xolile Mngeni was hired by Ms Dewani’s British husband, Shrien, to carry out the killing in an attack designed to resemble a car hijacking in Cape Town’s impoverished Gugulethu township.
Mngeni, 25, was found guilty of premeditated murder yesterday after a judge at the Western Cape High Court heard an “avalanche of evidence” against him.
He was further convicted of robbery with aggravating circumstances and illegal possession of a firearm and ammunition.
“The State has proven its case beyond reasonable doubt,” Judge Robert Henney told the court.
“The case against the accused is overwhelming and the accused could barely avoid the avalanche of evidence from crashing down on him.”
Mngeni was acquitted of Ms Dewani’s kidnapping — deemed to have been part of a single chain of events leading to her murder. He stood expressionless as the judgement was delivered while his family watched, wide-eyed, from the gallery above.
Businessman Mr Dewani, who has been held at Fromeside Clinic, a secure mental health hospital in Bristol, is fighting extradition to South Africa.
He continues to deny orchestrating the killing on Nov 13, 2010.
Ms Dewani, 28, was shot in the supposed carjacking as the newlyweds travelled by taxi through the outskirts of Cape Town.
Her husband, 32, and driver Zola Tongo were ejected from the car before Ms Dewani was driven away and killed. The bride was later found dead in the back of the abandoned vehicle with a bullet wound to her neck.
Tongo, who has admitted his part in the crime, claimed in a plea agreement with prosecutors that Mr Dewani ordered the carjacking and paid for a hit on his wife.
He received an 18-year prison sentence. His accomplice Mziwamadoda Qwabe also pleaded guilty to charges over the murder.
Both Tongo and Qwabe said Mr Dewani wanted it to appear as if he had nothing to do with his wife’s murder which was first thought to have been part of a robbery.
As part of his plea deal, Qwabe provided a statement to the court detailing how he and Mngeni staged the carjacking.
He told how he had driven the car while Mngeni aimed a 7.62 mm pistol at Ms Dewani in the back seat before he pulled the trigger.
Qwabe said he stopped the car in panic before he got out to help Mngeni find the spent bullet casing. He threw this into a sewer before they fled the scene.
In a 60-page judgment, Judge Henney dismissed claims by Mngeni’s lawyer that his client had been set up for the killing.
He described Qwabe’s evidence against Mngeni as clear, precise, detailed and chronological, and said Qwabe came across as intelligent and did not contradict himself in the witness box.
He concluded: “Much of Qwabe’s evidence was corroborated by other witnesses and other evidence.”
The state called 26 witnesses to strengthen its case.
In March the High Court temporarily halted Mr Dewani’s extradition proceedings because of his poor mental health.
The businessman, who has vowed to clear his name, has been receiving treatment for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
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