A man, Ntokozo Zikhali who was arraigned for the abduction and murder of a 4-year-old girl, Bokgabo Poo in the Gauteng High Court sitting in Benoni, South Africa, was declared not guilty of the crimes on Monday, August 7.
The child had gone missing on 10 October 2022 while playing with a friend in Masoleng Park in Wattville, Benoni, sparking a massive search effort and public outrage.
Residents later discovered parts of her mutilated body in a shallow grave a day after she went missing. The child was r*ped before she was murdered.
30-year-old Zikhali was charged with kidnapping, murder, violation of corpse and defeating the ends of justice.
The shocking verdict left many in disbelief as the accused walked free despite the gruesome nature of the crime, his lengthy links to s3xual crimes against minors and confession to kidnapping and killing the deceased.
The court dismissed the state's evidence of video footage showing the accused walking with the victim, including the state relying on the confession and pointing out of the scene by the accused.
The acting judge presiding over the case, Ian Cox, dismissed the State’s application to introduce a witness statement after they had already closed their case.
The witness was with the investigating officer during Zikhali’s arrest, and the State sought to use this statement to establish if the accused’s rights were violated during the arrest.
However, Judge Cox deemed the late introduction of the statement as unfair to the accused, ensuring justice for all parties involved.
State Prosecutor Eric Sihlangu argued for the witness, Sergeant Sibuyani, to testify during a trial-within-a-trial to determine if the accused’s rights were upheld during the arrest.
The defence, led by Advocate Anneke Van Wyk, objected to this late introduction, claiming it would not alter the proceedings’ course.
The judge sided with the defence, emphasizing the importance of a fair trial for the accused.
During the trial, the court heard about how Zikhali had confessed to the crime during his arrest to Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Bronkhorst at Brakpan SAPS.
However, Zikhali later claimed that the confession was not made freely and voluntarily due to alleged police assault.
Consequently, a trial-within-a-trial was initiated to evaluate the confession’s admissibility.
Judge Cox ruled the confession inadmissible, stating that the State failed to provide sufficient evidence of its voluntary nature.
Following the judge’s ruling, Ntokozo Zikhali was found not guilty of the charges against him.
Meanwhile, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has accepted a court ruling which acquitted the accused.
Gauteng NPA spokesperson Lumka Mahanjana said that in circumstances where the State relies on evidence that is inconclusive, and is thus ruled inadmissible, the only appropriate ruling by the court is acquittal.
"The State therefore accepts the court's ruling, although it is understandable that it leaves the family and the community devastated that they did not get the closure and justice they hoped for," Mahanjana said.