The legal representative of Suretha Brits, the wife of murdered Pofadder Hotel owner Leon Brits, made an application to appeal her bail refusal in the Northern Cape High Court on Friday.
THE STATE has revealed details of how Suretha Brits, 30, who is accused of murdering her husband – the owner of the Pofadder Hotel, Leon Brits, 41 – allegedly intimidated and threatened to kill State witnesses, including a man who apparently rejected her sexual advances.
Brits’ legal representative made an application to appeal her bail refusal in the Northern Cape High Court on Friday.
She was denied bail in the Pofadder Magistrate’s Court following her arrest in connection with the murder in April.
The body of Leon Brits was found floating in the swimming pool at one of his properties in Pofadder in October last year.
He had sustained several stab wounds and was apparently choked with a dog chain.
His killers were allegedly offered R400,000 for the execution of the murder.
Several valuables including firearms, a cellphone, Krugerrands, polished diamonds and cash were taken from the premises during the apparent robbery.
The legal representative for Brits, advocate Sharon Erasmus, pointed out that while her client was facing serious charges, she should be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
“It is not a clear case that she will be convicted, where the court must balance the interests of justice against the rights of the accused,” said Erasmus.
She advised that Brits should be granted bail with stringent conditions attached, including reporting to a local police station on a regular basis.
“A condition can also be attached that she can only leave the Northern Cape with permission from the investigating officer.”
Erasmus believed that Brits was not a flight risk and indicated that she was able to afford R10,000 bail.
“She is based in the Northern Cape and she has three minor children. Her passport has expired and she can hand it in to the police station. The State has obtained all necessary statements so it is unlikely that she will influence any witnesses.”
She added that her client should be released on bail in the interests of her minor children.
“While her children’s financial and physical needs are being catered for, the impact of her separation from the family has caused the children emotional trauma. They also lost their father and now they are also without a mother. According to the appellant (Brits), their relationship has grown closer and they are inseparable following the death of the deceased.”
Erasmus pointed out that Brits’ co-accused were previously released on a warning.
She explained that Brits had approached a witness prior to being considered an accused in the case.
“She provided a full explanation regarding both incidents that took place in December and February, where she feared for her life and contacted the police.”
Erasmus added that Brits only had one traffic violation, where she had paid an admission of guilt fine. “She has no pending cases. No one ever went to the police regarding a mere allegation that she threatened to make someone disappear.”
Erasmus indicated that an attorney had been appointed to take care of the family businesses as there were some legal implications. “Brits received an income and a salary from the hotel and guest house.”
Senior State advocate Hannes Cloete pointed out that Brits was not placed in custody as a form of punishment or presumption of guilt.
“It is normal practise to keep people in custody pending the outcome of a trial. Exceptional circumstances must be proven that the appellant will most probably not be found guilty during the trial in order to qualify for bail. The appellant relied on three factors in her appeal, namely her business interests, her poor health condition and the interests of her children,” said Cloete.
He indicated that while Brits was entitled to remain silent so as not to incriminate herself, it carried certain consequences.
Cloete stated that the only going concern was the Pofadder Hotel and guest house, while Brits had decided to terminate the business, SSS suppliers, months before her arrest.
“There were vague references to investors from Zambia which she chose not to disclose any details to the Pofadder magistrate. Her business interests have fallen by the wayside. The farm is rented out and her presence is not required there as all income will go to the estate. She conceded under cross-examination that nothing prevents the appointment of a manager for the hotel and employees are currently running the business.”
He believed that Brits had exaggerated her health condition and being “at death’s door”.
“She is not suffering any life-threatening illnesses. She is receiving her medication and treatment and has access to her own doctor, should it be required. A professional nurse placed on record how she is being treated at the Upington prison. There is nothing extraordinary or exceptional about it.”
Cloete stated that while the court was sympathetic to the plight of the children, it was important to remember that the court was dealing with a criminal matter.
“The State has a strong case. It was on the onus of the appellant to demonstrate how these children would suffer emotionally and otherwise, if she remained incarcerated. No expert evidence was brought to the table. She testified that she and the children received counselling and that her children did better than her in dealing with the trauma.”
He indicated that compared to other cases, the interests of Brits’ children were “particularly well looked after”, where the defence’s case relied on the interests of the children and personal circumstances of the accused.
“Upon close examination, the circumstances are not exceptional at all. The children have a day mother and family members who look after them and their financial needs are catered for.
“While it is not an ideal situation, where they find themselves in the centre of a tragedy, under the circumstances they are particularly well looked after.
“Sometimes we cannot do anything about the emotional part – where in a murder case, children will suffer.”
Cloete pointed out that Brits, along with a private detective, had accused innocent persons of her husband’s murder.
“The appellant lied to the police by making a false statement. She pointed a finger to innocent people at the hotel as well as her brother-in-law, Tokkie Brits, who was investigated but came out clean. She interfered with the administration of justice in an attempt to defeat the ends of justice.”
He stated that she had also threatened and interfered with a witness, against the advice of the police and legal representative, where she allegedly tried to influence her to alter the statement that she provided to the police.
“The appellant made several attempts to contact the witness and wanted copies of the statements to be provided to her and her private detective.”
Cloete stated that Brits had denied threatening to kill another man “because he had scorned her advances and reported her conduct to her husband”.
“While it could be said that the threat was made in the heat of the moment, the totality of the evidence cannot go uncontested as she was actively involved in the murder of her husband.”
Northern Cape High Court Judge Lawrence Lever pointed out that Brits’ mother was taking care of her minor children and was also a State witness, where she was also warned not to discuss anything pertinent relating to the case with her mother.
He was concerned that she had approached a witness after being warned by the police not to do so.
Lever queried how much money was tied up in the deceased’s estate as he was not able to ascertain whether an executor of the estate had been appointed yet.
“There was a large amount of money in the safes and we do not know if some of the money belongs to Brits. Statements provided indicate a taxable income of R302,000.”
He believed that Brits’ medical condition was stable and while undesirable, it would not be necessary to travel to Johannesburg or Stellenbosch to receive medical treatment.
Lever reserved judgment.