ACCUSED 'FEAR BIAS'
The Jeppestown massacre trial took a new turn yesterday when 11 of the accused demanded that the judge recuse himself, claiming he is biased.
They are among 13 people, including a woman, standing trial in the Johannesburg high court for the June 2006 blood bath in Jeppestown.
Just seven days into the trial, the 11 accused have instructed their lawyers to apply for Judge Ratha Mokgoathleng to recuse himself from the case, stating "reasonable apprehension of bias" as the main reason.
But Maria Maleke, 30, and Senzo Mweli, 27, the first and second accused, disagreed with their co-accused and asked the judge to remain on the bench .
Visibly upset Judge Mokgoathleng gave the 10 defence attorneys for the 11 accused until this afternoon to return to court with formal applications, stating why they want him to recuse himself.
If Judge Mokgoathleng does step down, the trial would have to begin from scratch and the 14 witnesses who have already testified would have to come back to the stand.
State prosecutor Advocate Joanie Spies said she did not oppose the application for the judge's recusal but would wait for the defence lawyers to give her the formal applications.
The 12 men and the woman are being tried for murder, attempted murder, robbery and the illegal possession of firearms and ammunition.
Maleke, apparently the gang's mastermind, allegedly helped the 12 men rob a Pick n Pay supermarket in Honeydew on June 25 2006 where she was employed as a merchandiser.
Police arrested one of the robbers who led them to a house in Jeppestown where the gang was hiding. A gun battle ensued and ended five hours later . Four policemen and eight gang members were dead.
The trial continues.