Prosecutor Thibedi called Captain Michelle Lesch as his second witness.
Lesch was a notable, professional improvement on Grootboom. Befitting her position as a high ranking officer, she provided clear answers and would often add info for clarification.
She provided insight into regulations and how the police station treated evidence. Regards the latter, which is vital to this case, she said that evidence would be collected each morning from the safe at CSC (Community Services Centre) by a SAP13 clerk (either Sergeant Carmen Coetzee or Sergeant Abraham Coetzer). This would then be noted in a ‘register’ which in turn would be checked on by a higher ranking officer who’d make a ‘list’.
As final oversight, a monthly ‘certificate’ would be sent to provincial headquarters.
From her testimony, the following facts and history of actions were obtained:
- The laptop was part of the same evidence that included 41kg of dagga. The laptop was in the same bag. When the dagga was destroyed, the laptop was not with it and was classified as “outstanding”. “Outstanding” does not mean “missing”, just that it has not been disposed of and should still be sitting on a shelf in the SAP13 storeroom at the back of the Knysna SAPS station.
- The records show that Sergeant Maurice Grootboom (CSC) signed the laptop over to Sergeant Coetzee, the SAP13 clerk, who noted it in her register.
- Coetzee and Coetzer update their register monthly. During part of this period in 2013, Coetzer was on leave.
- An error in the check-up by superiors is that they compile lists based on the register i.e. if the register is incorrect, then the list would be incorrect (and, in turn, so would the monthly certificates). Nevertheless, Captain Dewald Kitching checked on November 28 and Captain Patrick Gogwana on December 30 2013. Neither reported the laptop missing.
- Captain Kitching had been involved in the bust that had netted the laptop and the R150 000 worth of dagga.
- On January 31 2014, Captain Lesch, when compiling a list, found the laptop to be missing and became aware that a case docket had been opened against Johann Burmeister.
- At no stage did Coetzee or Coetzer report the laptop missing to their superiors.
- Earlier, Bruwer, the attorney for Johann Burmeister, the defendant, stated that, according to the chain of evidence, that if anyone was to be blamed for the missing laptop, it should be Coetzee – Grootboom had agreed.
It was an eventful first day of court that showed flaws in the Knysna SAPS auditing. It also raised disturbing questions around the authenticity of Maurice Grootboom’s affidavit that was used against Burmeister. Senior Prosecutor Thibedi was obviously no match for Advocate Bruwer. It could also be said that lies were no match for the truth.
Magistrate Derek Torlage was again to be commended. He was often a voice of reason and clarification. His granting of recesses allowed the fetching of evidence from the police station next door which undoubtedly saved lengthy delays. True to his word at Burmeister’s previous court appearance, he was ensuring a speedy trial.
Denise, Johann Burmeister’s wife, emphasised some of this by saying that she “witnessed the lies come to light” and “was stunned beyond belief” but that “the cross-examination delivered by Adv. Bruwer was out of this world. I am glad that this case has finally started so that we can start rebuilding our lives!“
Trial day #2 in Courtroom D, upstairs at the Knysna Magistrate’s Courts, at 9am tomorrow (July 23 2014).