Sentence — Factors to be taken into account — Remorse — Question of fact— Accused denying role in murder until last moment before sentencing, when they performed volte-face — Not true remorse.


The two appellants appealed against their sentences of life imprisonment for murder. They were the middlemen in a contract killing. The deceased’s husband wanted her killed because she sought custody of their 4-year-old son in divorce proceedings in which they were embroiled. The second appellant was offered R1 million for the killing. He in turn offered the first appellant R50 000 to find people to carry out the execution. Two hired killers were contracted to shoot the deceased immediately after she dropped her son at a crèche, which they did, shooting her twice at point-blank range. The killers entered into plea-and-sentencing agreements with the state and were each sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment. On appeal against their sentences of life imprisonment, the appellants relied inter alia on the contention that they had shown remorse.

Held, that whether an accused had true remorse was a question of fact. In the present matter the only expression of such by the first appellant came after his trial in which he had pleaded not guilty and testified under oath. He attempted to exonerate himself by placing as much space between him and the murder as possible. Even after his conviction and before sentence his counsel had intimated to the trial judge that he was going to appeal against his conviction. It was only after the second appellant subsequently revealed the first appellant’s role in the commission of the crime that he later changed his version. Even then, he failed to testify under oath and subject himself to cross-examination.

Held, further, as to the second appellant, that he agreed to change his version after he came to an agreement with the state that he would reveal the whole plot on condition that the state would ask for 20 years’ imprisonment for him. He displayed no remorse in the affidavit he presented to court, and his testimony during sentencing was also devoid of any mention of remorse. (Paragraph [17] at 334a–b.)

Held, further, that the actions of the appellants smacked of opportunism and it was only when the writing was on the wall for both of them that they made an about-turn. This was not to benefit society or to enable the deceased’s family to have closure and not relive their trauma, but to benefit themselves. It would not be in the interests of society that they be allowed to use such a volte-face as an escape route to avoid a sentence peremptorily prescribed by the legislature. The appeals were dismissed.


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