South African Serving Life For Rape Freed Over Shoddy Handling Of DNA

Mthetho Khauta, a South African man serving life imprisonment for rape, has regained freedom after successfully appealing his conviction and sentence.

Khauta, a taxi driver, was jailed in 2018 by the Bloemfontein Regional Court for a rape committed on the night of September 27, 2015.

He and one other were said to have taken turns raping a woman, found parked at a secluded spot with her boyfriend. The boyfriend managed to flee after being shot in the stomach during a scuffle with the assailants.

After the rape, the duo disappeared with two cellphones belonging to the couple.

The couple could not identify the attackers because it was dark but Khauta, 38, was arrested almost 12 months later. He was charged with rape on grounds that DNA evidence linked him to the vaginal swabs drawn from the rape survivor.

He was also found in possession of one of the stolen cellphones.

In 2018, he was jailed for life on one count of rape, two counts of robbery with aggravating circumstances and one of attempted murder.

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After his sentencing, Khauta launched an appeal on grounds that the DNA evidence that convicted him was compromised.

Judge Philip Loubser ruled in favour of Khauta’s appeal at the Bloemfontein High Court last week.

Judge Loubser upheld Khauta’s appeal against the count of rape, two counts of robbery with aggravating circumstances and one of attempted murder because police evidence on the cellphone was flawed because it did not indicate the dates he was found with the stolen property.

“We do not know whether he was in possession a few hours after the incident or only some months afterwards.

“On its own, the evidence relating to the cellphone therefore falls short of proving anything against the appellant,” Judge Loubser said.

Next to fall was the State’s major purported evidence against Khauta: the DNA results.

The DNA was presented to court in the form of an affidavit by Warrant Officer Eloise Reynolds, a forensic analyst from the Forensic Science Laboratory in Pretoria.

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Judge Loubser found in favour of Khauta’s arguments that the DNA did not inspire confidence that it had been handled properly, nor that it was drawn from him and the rape survivor.

“In the absence of any further evidence, and in the absence of any further admissions made by the defence in the (regional) court, it is evident there are no indications whatsoever as to the identity of the persons from whom the forensic samples were obtained, under which numbers those respective samples were sealed, and how the sealed bags with the samples ended up in the hands of Warrant Officer Reynolds,” said Judge Loubser.

“Despite these glaring shortcomings, the trial magistrate found in his judgment that the DNA evidence had placed the appellant ‘right at the scene of the crime’. In this respect, the findings of the magistrate were wrong. As already indicated, it is not even known whether the one sample came from the complainant, and the other sample from the appellant.”

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Judge Loubser cited a precedent-setting judgment, which stressed that holes in DNA chain evidence affected its integrity.

“The State must establish the name of each person who handled the evidence, the date on which it was handled and the duration,” Acting Judge Tebogo Djadje said, in her 2016 judgment.

Judge Loubser said: “I fully agree with the sentiments expressed by the learned acting judge. It follows that the conviction of the appellant, on all four counts, cannot stand.”

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