THE UPINGTON High School pupil, who has been accused of murdering 19-year-old Riedwaan Mackay, before burning and dumping his body, will remain in custody for the duration of his trial.
This comes after the State successfully opposed bail for 19-year-old Christopher Ortell yesterday, for what the investigating officer, Captain Sylvester Magugu, described as a “brutal, barbaric and senseless murder”, which has also left both witnesses to the crime and relatives of the deceased living in fear of the accused.
In an affidavit in support of his bail application, read to the court yesterday, Ortell doubted whether he had been responsible for the death of Mackay.
“On that day, I was on my way from my father’s home to West End where I met the deceased,” the court heard. “After we smoked drugs, an argument ensued and I hit him.
“Before my appearance, I was urged to make a confession. I don’t know if my blow was the mortal one. I don’t know if I caused the death.”
While justifying his opposition to bail on Friday, Magugu said that he had been present when a post-mortem had been conducted on the deceased, adding that the doctor who conducted the autopsy had stated that the death appeared to have been as a result of suffocation caused by a sock that was found lodged in Mackay’s mouth.
The accused maintains that this sock was used to prevent the deceased from screaming and was placed there by the witness who was present during the incident.
Ortell further stated that he had handed himself over to police after they were unable to trace him. He denied fleeing Kimberley for Upington to evade arrest.
“I was approached by the investigating officer, who requested an interview, and I told him that I would not allow this without consulting with my legal representative. After speaking to my attorney, I informed the IO that I wanted to make a confession.”
He said that, if granted bail he would not contact witnesses nor interfere with the investigation, emphasising that the murder was not premeditated and the onus was therefore on the State to justify his incarceration for the duration of the trial.
However, prosecutor Elmari van der Merwe said that the State had a strong enough case, based on evidence and witness testimony alone, to prove the guilt of the accused without relying on his confession.
Van der Merwe emphasised that it was not in the interests of justice to grant Ortell bail as there were claims of witness intimidation, while attempts to burn the body of the deceased indicated a willingness to destroy evidence.
“Even if the confession is excluded it won’t diminish the strength of the State’s case,” she said. “There is evidence that the accused has threatened witnesses, telling them that if they said anything he would do the same to them. These witnesses don’t want their names revealed out of fear for their lives.
“The IO has indicated that this was a brutal, barbaric and senseless murder that was well planned.
“The accused obviously has no respect for human life. His actions after hitting the deceased with the cricket bat, along with the disposal of the body, shows a lack of conscience of human life.”
The prosecution further pointed out that had the deceased not been suffocated, the blow to the head may very well have proven fatal, adding that Mackay had been left gagged and potentially bleeding to death while the accused took his VW Golf for a joyride.
Van der Merwe added that the charge carried a prescribed minimum sentence of 15 years and had caused shock and outrage among members of the community.
“Emotions are high in the gallery and there were attempts to protest against his application for bail. Should the accused be released, it may result in public disorder as the public might take the law into their own hands.”
Magistrate Lunga Mbetane agreed and he denied bail yesterday afternoon, saying that it was in the interests of justice and the safety of the accused that he should remain in custody for the duration of the trial.
“During a previous appearance, you (Ortell) indicated that you wanted to be put in a single cell after receiving threats,” said Mbetane while elaborating on his decision.
“The witnesses are known to you and allege that you threatened them. Such threats need to be taken seriously as, if carried out, they could result in the loss of more lives.
“When one balances the arguments, one has to decide whether your release is in the interest of justice. When I look at all aspects, I’m of the opinion that you are better served in custody.”
The matter was postponed until June for further investigation.