State of the heart the focus of Maqubela trial
THE question of whether late Acting Judge Patrick Maqubela was murdered or died as a result of hypertensive heart disease was the focus of this week’s proceedings in the trial of his widow, Thandi Maqubela.
On the witness stand was defence expert Professor Gert Saayman, head of forensic medicine at the University of Pretoria, who was cross-examined after giving his evidence-in-chief earlier this year. Saayman’s view is that, in all probability, the acting judge died as a result of hypertensive heart disease. He based his view on some reports before the court, but did not have the entire docket in his possession – an issue which was raised by State advocate Bonnie Currie-Gamwo.
Saayman said: “Whether or not I would’ve come to a different opinion if I had access to the entire docket, I have no means of answering.”
From what he had before him, though, Saayman concluded that the acting judge’s heart was enlarged.
“An enlarged heart places one at risk of sudden death,” he said.
The heart weighed 369g, when the mass range for a normal heart was between 240g and 350g. While CurrieGamwo pointed out that it was only 19g above the range, Saayman said that, in his view, the acting judge’s heart should have weighed substantially less than 350g because people lose muscle mass as they age. While Saayman could not rule out asphyxia, he said his view was that “the probabilities are” that it was heart failure that killed him.
When questioned about the fact that the acting judge’s doctor had given him a clean bill of health about two weeks before he died, Saayman said there were many people who appeared to be in good health, but distinctive pathologies emerged during autopsies.
Saayman’s view is in stark contrast to that of State expert Sipho Mfolozi, who performed the autopsy on the acting judge’s body.
Thandi Maqubela is charged with health products agent Vela Mabena, who was involved in a business she worked for. Both have pleaded not guilty to the murder. Maqubela has also pleaded not guilty to fraud and forgery for allegedly manipulating her husband’s will.
The State alleges that Maqubela was killed on June 5, 2009 and, while a precise time of death has not been presented, the evidence of previous witnesses points to his failure to arrive at court that morning, where he was to preside over an appeal. His registrar at the time, Joy Ely-Hanslo, testified last year that she received a call that morning from a woman, who identified herself as “Amanda”, and who informed her that the acting judge had been admitted to hospital.
Telkom expert Hermanus Visagie presented records that showed that a call received at his chambers at 10.30am that morning emanated from the acting judge’s Cell C number. Evidence of the activity of Thandi Maqubela’s cellphone numbers, her husband’s number, and the MTN number linked to Mabena was presented. Records for the acting judge’s Cell C number were compared to the records for numbers linked to his wife, and showed they were all transmitted from the same areas at around the same time.
In addition, it emerged that her number sent SMSes to his Cell C number at 2.30pm, 3.18pm and 5.04pm on the day he was allegedly killed – all in the vicinity of the President Hotel, close to the apartment complex where the acting judge’s body was found.
The court also heard of strife in the couple’s marriage, with the acting judge’s nephew testifying that the acting judge had mentioned divorce. In addition, there was evidence that Maqubela had been speaking to a newspaper about exposing her husband’s infidelity. Earlier in the trial, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe testified that Maqubela discussed the extra-marital affairs with him, and that she was intent on exposing him.
The trial resumes on Tuesday.
ON TRIAL: Thandi Maqubela stands accused of killing her husband.
BIG HEART: Patrick Maqubela’s heart was overweight, says professor.