On Wednesday, Donovan Moodley will hear whether he’ll be granted a retrial for the kidnapping and murder of Leigh Matthews. Having spent more than six years in jail, he’ll probably be pretty anxious about the verdict. In the long and proud tradition of offering advice to politicians, we thought we’d spread our wings and dish out a few words of wisdom to a self-confessed murderer. I spent years covering the Leigh Matthews case and could just be the man for the job…
Donovan, Donovan, Donovan. The ponytail? Really? What were you thinking? It’s like you’re screaming: “I’m even more creepy than you ever imagined”. Remember that photograph of your arrest? The stubble, the glasses, the look in your eyes… that was nice. That was dramatic and classy. Remember that sideways look captured by a sneaky camera during your trial? The one where newspapers zoomed all the way in and called it “Eyes of a killer” (with the soft yellow glow of the courtroom lamps)? I do. And all I’m saying is: I expected more.
But onto important matters… I know you’re not a huge fan of journalists. You even wrote us that letter once calling us snakes. And I see you haven’t warmed up to us much over the years. But that’s okay, some of the best advice in the world is of the unsolicited kind. Plus, if you had time to prepare a 300-page application – which took two days to deliver – I reckon you can spare a few minutes to read an article. Especially an article by a reporter who followed your story from the very first press conference called by the Matthews family (remember that Saturday night at the police headquarters in town) right up until your conviction. We’ve come a long way, even though I have to confess I kind of forgot all about you for a great chunk of the past six years.
But you know who hasn’t forgotten? Rob, Sharon and Karen Matthews. Three people whose lives you destroyed. They are the victims in this terrible story. Not you. No matter how many dark and lonely nights you’ve spent in jail.
So when Judge Joop Labuschagne dismisses your application, which he almost certainly will, I call on you to do the honourable thing and give up. Just stop. Don’t appeal it. Don’t fight it. Just go back to jail and continue to serve out your time. If I recall correctly, Sharon testified ahead of your sentencing and said: “Even criminals should have a sense of honour”. Those are wise words. Listen to them.
In fact, no, you could even go further and actually tell the truth. I know you say you have, but let’s be honest, no one believes you. Yes, there probably were others involved in the crime and yes, we are still waiting for them to be caught, but your latest version is so far fetched, it’s borderline ridiculous. The three Nigerians? Your paralysing fear of them? Their mysterious disappearance because the police failed to investigate? I think most people will side with prosecutor Ziaas Van Zyl, who called these so-called killers “ghosts”.
I believe that if you really wanted to tell the truth, you wouldn’t have waited this long. You would have come clean during your trial. Maybe even straight after your arrest. (That would be soon after you used the ransom money to buy an engagement ring for your girlfriend.)
You say you were a young man crushed by the state and the target of Piet Byleveld’s underhanded tactics, or the “poisoned tree” he planted. Okay, so you’ve done some reading in jail – Antony Altbeker’s Fruit of a Poisoned Tree – and yes there are bad policemen out there. But let’s be honest, everything in your case comes down to the choices you made. And you’ve made some bad ones. You chose to commit a murder. You chose to lie. You chose to sign a confession that read: “… I handed her a blanket to cover herself. In the process of covering herself with the blanket she turned her back towards me. It was then that I shot her in the back of her head at point blank range.”
You chose to wait six or more years to present a new version of events and you chose not to reach out to the Matthews family.
If you’re not big on the whole honour thing, there’s also the fact that you actually have no legal basis on which to have a retrial. Law professors have made it clear you are wasting your time and abusing court process (stirring up a tornado of pain and emotion for the real victims in the process). Experts have given you odds of “slim, if any”. The avenues that were once open to you have now closed.
Your next chance at freedom will be to apply for parole, once you’ve served at least a third of your sentence. That is your constitutional right and you should pursue it with everything you have. I would never discourage you from doing that, but expect the mother of all fights from the Matthews family and from the public in general. And I hate to say it, but this latest episode in court will probably be used against you at that point. It’s difficult to plead innocent one moment and then claim to be remorseful the next. But that’s all in the future…
Your application last week also showed us that you were hopelessly outgunned. You spoke of Jesus, Juju, CSI and of Oprah. Van Zyl quoted beautiful, sorrowful words from Voltaire: “To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth”. You are keeping the truth from us still.
Consider how the family of one of Eugene De Kock’s letter bomb victims has just dismissed his plea for forgiveness. He’s been sitting in jail for 16 years and, with parole on the horizon, has finally decided to repent. The lawyer representing Bheki Mlangeni’s family says they feel that if he had anything to say, he should have done so during the Truth and Reconciliation Hearings and that De Kock should now “live with his own ghosts”. Sound familiar?
Let’s recap: The law is against you. Public sentiment is against you. Forensic evidence is against you. The people you have chosen to attack (Piet Byleveld and Ziaas Van Zyl) are giants compared to you. To the Matthews family you are nothing more than a liar. And worst of all, your new version can’t be substantiated by any actual evidence, which is kind of what the courts need to make decisions.
Even if you are a different man now and have found a new path to travel, the time has not come for you to walk amongst us. Yes, prison has probably been terrible. Yes you have probably been haunted by demons. But as Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote in Crime and Punishment: “If he has a conscience he will suffer for his mistake. That will be his punishment as well as his prison.”
You have caused a lot of suffering and your attempt to absolve yourself is an insult to the Matthews family and to the rest of us. DM
Dubbed a "troublemaker" for his investigative work, Alex Eliseev is also an award-winning hard news journalist who has reported from Haiti, Japan and Libya. Currently an Eyewitness News reporter, he's worked for South Africa's top newspapers, including The Star and Sunday Times. To quench the thirst of his soul, he writes human-interest features. He also collects shirts with birds on them.
"Joyfully to the breeze royal Odysseus spread his sail and with his rudder skillfully he steered." ~ Homer