Tears of relief as homeless man is acquitted of KZN socialite's murder
Simphiwe Mweli, the man accused of the January 2020 murder of socialite Kavitha Nerputh, broke down and sobbed when Pietermaritzburg magistrate Bhekizitha Phoswa pronounced him not guilty of the crime.
Nerputh's body was found in her abandoned silver grey Audi Q7 by police in January 2020 under a tree near a river. She was seated in the driver’s seat with her seat belt fastened. The car keys were not in the ignition, while her head was slumped forward. She had strangulation marks on her neck.
Nerputh owned a company which sold a weight-loss product called Forever Well Tea. She became a social media hit in 2017 when she threw her then four-year-old daughter a R100,000 carnival-theme birthday party.
In his testimony, Mweli — who was a vagrant at the time of his arrest — told the court that while walking to the YMCA in Scottsville alongside Alexandra Park with his friend, whom he identified as Mbuso, a vehicle driven by an Indian lady had pulled up next to them and she asked to speak to him.
He said the woman asked if he was looking for work and he responded he was desperate for a job. He claimed Nerputh also asked if he owned a firearm, if he knew someone who would have sex with her and also kill her for a fee of R1,000.
Mweli said the woman said her friends and her ex-husband were troubling her.
He claimed he rejected her proposal before parting ways with her in Alexandra Park.
In his judgment, Phoswa said Mweli often lied during the trial.
“New things came up when he was giving evidence which were never disclosed in evidence in chief,” said Phoswa.
Phoswa said the law did not dictate that if someone lied, it automatically made them guilty of the offence charged. He cited the law of evidence where people may lie for a variety of reasons.
“The crucial and critical question is what the accused says in his defence under oath. Outlining common sense, I find one aspect interesting: no-one ever saw the accused killing the deceased.
“Interestingly, it’s the accused who told the court how he met the deceased, how the request was made by the deceased and his rejection,” Phoswa said.
He said there was no direct evidence linking the accused to Nerputh's death.
Nerputh’s ex-husband Manesh Manihalal also testified in the trial, revealing that even though they were divorced, they maintained a “cordial’ relationship as they had a child together. Their last communication had been on January 18 and 19 2020.
“On the night of January 18 Manesh had received a call from the deceased, who was restless and was unsure whether her family was safe,” said Phoswa. "This was followed by a WhatsApp message on January 19, where the deceased shared that she was receiving serious threats. This had prompted Manesh to comfort her by vowing that no-one would cause her harm.”
Nerputh had earlier won a bruising harassment case in 2019.
Msizi Mbhele, who implicated Mweli in the killing, said on January 16 2020 they were at the YMCA in Scottsville. He said the accused had taken them into his confidence about Nerputh's proposal. The following Saturday, according to Mbhele, Mweli arrived with a bottle of vodka and confessed to killing Nerputh by using a charger and an electric cord.
Phoswa questioned the evidence and whether the confession was made from a person who was sober or of sound mind. He was critical of the police investigation, as there was no attempt made to get DNA samples from the cellphone charger and finger prints from Nerputh's vehicle.
“The question we have in our minds is that the guilt of the accused must be proven beyond reasonable doubt,” Phoswa said.
The state could not find witnesses to testify on Mweli’s behalf, as he did not have any fixed address. Phoswa said there was a reasonable possibility Nerputh could have hired someone else to end her life.
Mweli was led to the underground holding cells before being released.