Cleared after seven years awaiting trial

McKeed Kotlolo

McKeed Kotlolo

An Angolan businessman facing charges that include attempted murder and rape was acquitted in the Cullinan regional court yesterday - seven years after being in jail awaiting trial.

Sergio Joao Christiano, 35, was arrested in 1999 and his case was only finalised yesterday when magistrate MM Cook acquitted him on nine charges of attempted murder, rape, kidnapping, assault and robbery.

Christiano had spent seven years, five months and 15 days in custody.

During that period, his case was postponed more than 70 times in three different courts in Pretoria, where it started, Bronkhorstspruit and Cullinan.

He also had a total of eight lawyers defending him and three police officers investigating the cases against him.

Christiano also survived two suicide attempts, including one when he swallowed razor blades during court proceedings.

Shortly thereafter, he started to receive regular visits from Julia Mashele, who had herself spent more than seven years awaiting trial before she was acquitted in May 2000. She had been arrested in May 1993.

After his acquittal yesterday, Christiano hugged Mashele and his lawyer Liz de Oliveira Serrao.

"I am very happy. I am going to my new life. Julia has always been there at all times inspiring me.

"I do not know how to thank her," Christiano said.

When he left court he also hugged and bid farewell to Mannie Cornelius, a prison warder he had known for five years.

Cornelius wished him well and advised him to stay away from trouble.