JOHANNESBURG (AP) — A British man accused of arranging the murder of his wife during their honeymoon in South Africa pleaded not guilty on Monday to all charges. It was the first day of a trial delayed for years by an extradition process between South Africa and the United Kingdom.
Shrien Dewani's lawyer read a nearly 40-page statement on behalf of his client, recalling the details surrounding the death of his wife Anni. Dewani claims he and his wife were hijacked and kidnapped at gunpoint in Cape Town. During the incident in Dewani was released unharmed, while Anni was shot dead.
The millionaire businessman described the killing as "a traumatic experience" saying that he suffered "flashbacks, nightmares and anxiety attacks" that have affected his ability to remember clearly.
Dewani said he and his wife were in the back of a taxi when it was allegedly hijacked by armed men. The couple was forced to lie down in the backseat, he said, adding that he was instructed to silence his wife as she screamed.
"The next thing I remember was banging noises coming from the front and right-hand side of the car. There was a lot of shouting in a language I did not understand," he said in the statement. He claimed the attackers promised to release them separately, ordering Dewani to leave the car first, at gunpoint.
Local police informed him the next day that his wife had been found dead in the stolen vehicle.
Dewani is charged with conspiracy to commit murder, kidnapping, robbery with aggravating circumstances, and defeating the ends of justice.
Dewani's statement also painted a detailed picture of the couple's relationship, which had been under scrutiny in previous hearings. He recalled how they met, their lavish Mumbai wedding and the moments before her murder. Dewani said he and Anni were both "headstrong and often argued with each other."
The South African court also reviewed forensic evidence, with both the defense and prosecution cross-examining a state pathologist. The families of both the victim and the accused learned that Anni must have been shot at close range, the bullet entering her neck and piercing her lower spinal cord, according to Britain's Press Association news agency. The court saw footage of the crime scene where the Swedish national's body was found.
South African authorities argue that Dewani paid local residents Zola Tongo, Mziwamadoda Qwabe and Xolile Mngeni to kill his wife. Both Tongo and Qwabe have said they planned with Dewani to make the incident look like a random crime. Qwabe has also said he was paid 15,000 rand (about $2,100) for the murder. The three South African men have already been convicted of the crime and are serving jail terms.
Dewani was arrested in the United Kingdom in 2010 and was extradited to South Africa in April after a four year legal process.
Dressed in a black suit and a crisp white shirt, Dewani seemed calm in court. He is being held at a local psychiatric facility where he is under constant supervision following a suicide attempt in 2011. Unlike the recent high-profile case of South African athlete Oscar Pistorius, the Dewani trial will not be televised as agreed to by both sides because of the accused's mental health.
It is not yet known whether Dewani will give further evidence in his defense. The trial has been adjourned until Wednesday.