S. African gets life sentence in honeymoon slaying

AP News
Posted: Dec 05, 2012 6:45 AM
S. African gets life sentence in honeymoon slaying

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — A South African judge sentenced the triggerman in the 2010 honeymoon slaying of a Swedish bride to life in prison Wednesday, calling the shooter "a merciless and evil person" who deserved the maximum punishment for his crime.

The sentencing of Xolile Mngeni for the killing of 28-year-old Anni Dewani comes as prosecutors still await word whether the newlywed's British husband, who they say orchestrated the November 2010 killing, will be extradited to South Africa to stand trial. The bride's family, who attended the sentencing with a picture of her smiling pinned to their chests, said justice would only be done once husband Shrien Dewani stands before a South African court.

"The story of my innocent daughter Anni who lost her life here in Cape Town on her honeymoon still remains incomplete. The full picture will only emerge when Shrien comes down to Cape Town and faces the trial," said Vinod Hindocha, Anni Dewani's father. "Me and my wife have not slept a full night since Anni left us. And Shrien holds the key to that."

Judge Robert Henney, who found Mngeni guilty in November, did not hold back his contempt while sentencing the 25-year-old on Wednesday for the killing. Henney said that the shooter showed no remorse and his longtime illnesses could not weigh against receiving the harshest penalty available by law.

Mngeni, who had surgery in June 2011 to remove a brain tumor, has suffered seizures and black outs and has troubles remembering things, his lawyer has said.

"The interest of society, as well as the serious nature of the crimes that the accused has committed, doesn't allow my conscience — even though I have pity for the accused — to impose any other sentence than life imprisonment on the accused for the callous, calculated and brutal manner in which he ended the life of Anni Dewani," Henney said.

The judge added: "It is difficult to imagine the absolute terror and horror she must have endured as she stared down the barrel of the gun, which was pointed at her the moment before she was killed."

Mngeni showed no emotion during the sentencing Wednesday, putting his head down on a bannister in the courtroom and glancing over at Anni Dewani's family at one point. He gave a brief thumbs-up to his family as he left the court and his lawyer quickly left without speaking to journalists.

In August, Mngeni's alleged accomplice Mziwamadoda Qwabe pleaded guilty to charges over the killing, receiving a 25-year prison sentence. Zola Tongo, the taxi driver that police say husband Shrien Dewani asked to plot the killing, earlier received an 18-year prison sentence. Both Tongo and Qwabe have said Dewani wanted it to look like he wasn't involved his wife's slaying and they planned to have the attack look like a carjacking in Cape Town's impoverished Gugulethu township.

The men were paid 15,000 rand (about $2,100) for the killing, Qwabe and prosecutors have said.

In a statement provided as part of his plea deal, Qwabe said that after he and Mngeni staged a fake carjacking, he drove the car as Mngeni kept a 7.62 mm pistol pointed at Anni Dewani in the backseat and then pulled the trigger, the fatal shot going through her neck. Panicked, Qwabe said he stopped the car and got out, helping Mngeni find the spent bullet casing. He threw the casing into a sewer as they ran away into the night.

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Officials at first thought the crime was robbery. The rate of violent crime is high in South Africa but attacks on foreign tourists are rare.

Shrien Dewani has denied he hired anyone to kill his wife and was allowed by authorities to leave South Africa for the United Kingdom, where he was later arrested. In March, a U.K. High Court ruled that it would be "unjust and oppressive" to extradite Dewani to South Africa, as his mental condition had worsened since his arrest there.

In the time since, Dewani, 32, has been held at a secure mental health institution in Bristol. At a court hearing earlier in the week in London, officials said Dewani spent his time playing computer games in an old van at the facility, according to the Press Association. Dewani's mental condition will be reviewed in April, with a full extradition hearing set for July.