Tuesday 23 April 2019

Man accused of murdering charity worker John Curran claims self-defence

Victim: John Curran was found murdered in his flat in Cape Town. Photo: Irish Primary Principals' Network/PA Wire
Victim: John Curran was found murdered in his flat in Cape Town. Photo: Irish Primary Principals' Network/PA Wire

Jamie Pyatt

THE accused murderer of John Curran has admitted stabbing the charity worker 26 times, but claimed he was acting in self-defence.

Congolese national Mitspa Onyoka, 25, was not granted bail at the hearing five months after Mr Curran, 60, was found brutally stabbed to death at his flat in South Africa.

Cape Town Magistrates heard how Mr Curran had been stabbed 26 times in the head, neck, chest and back and had suffered blunt trauma injuries to his body.

He had also been strangled so violently that the thyroid bones on both sides of his neck had been broken and had grazes and contusions "consistent with a struggle".

Mr Onyoka, who was a cleaner at popular nightspot The Fantasy Lounge in Cape Town, was arrested several weeks after Mr Curran's body was found on November 7 last year.

Mr Onyoka has since been held in notorious Pollsmoor Prison and has claimed his life was in danger behind bars.

Defence barrister Anthony Berinato, in applying for bail, gave an account of how Mr Curran and illegal immigrant Mr Onyoka came to know each other.

He put before Magistrate Mr Vusi Mhlanga a sworn affidavit in pursuit of his bail plea in which he said his client was befriended by Mr Curran in the nightspot.

Stabbed: John Curran had completed a two-year contract with the Mellon Educate charity
Stabbed: John Curran had completed a two-year contract with the Mellon Educate charity

He claimed Mr Curran offered to get him a job as a car dealer, so he called to his Cape Town apartment alone, where he claims he was drugged and Mr Curran attempted to rape him.

His affidavit detailed how he saw a knife on the table and "began stabbing him".

"He became very angry and began to choke me. I stabbed him again with the knife and he stopped choking me,” Mr Onyoka said.

Mr Onyoka, who is charged with murder, told the court he had no idea what he had done to Mr Curran or if he was dead or alive saying he fled out the door and down the lift.

The cleaner was arrested later that month at work after CCTV images taken in the lift at the secure apartment block where Mr Curran lived alone were released by police.

He continued in his affidavit: “I was acting in self-defence... I will not flee bail as I want to prove in court I am not guilty”.

Detective Bardien said Mr Onyoka’s bloodied fingerprints on a knife and footprints and CCTV footage placed him inside the flat and leaving the apartment and he admitted being there.

He said the State would contest Mr Onyoka’s version of events in "due course" but said that the bail hearing was "not the time or place" to do so but was to ensure bail was refused.

Wo Bardien said: "If he fled across the border he would be very difficult if not impossible to trace. It is essential for justice to be done that he remains in custody until his trial".

Warrant Officer Shaun Bardien, attached to Cape Town Central CID, who is the investigating officer opposed the granting of bail saying Mr Onyoka was a "flight risk" if released.

He told the court the accused man was an illegal immigrant with no family or property ties to South Africa and was facing extremely serious charges and must remain in prison.

Defending, Mr Berinato argued: "I submit my client has put forward a strong defence as there was clearly a struggle and fight and my client feared being a victim of rape.

"He fought back in self-defence and that is consistent with the post mortem report," he said.

Prosecutor Johan Swart replied: "Being stabbed 26 times does not suggest self defence".

Magistrate Mr Mhlanga agreed with the prosecution that the accused was a flight risk and denied bail and sent him back to Pollsmoor Prison until the next hearing on May 16.

He said that bail was not being granted to Mr Onyoka “in the interests of justice”.

Mr Onyoka told the court he had fled the Democratic Republic of Congo in fear of his life as he had demonstrated against the Government and if he returned he could be killed.

His lawyer confirmed Mr Onyoka was an illegal immigrant but checks in the DRC and South Africa showed he had no previous convictions or pending convictions against him.

He said his client could put up R5000 bail (€347) and had an address to live in provided by his parents in Cape Town and would report to police three times a day if necessary.

Mr Onyoka said he would not jump bail as he wanted to start a fresh life in South Africa and promised not to interfere with the case if given bail and had surrendered his passport.

He said he had been an art student in the DRC until he contracted malaria at his home in the capital Kinshasa but had fled to South Africa after demonstrating against politicians.

Pleading for bail he said that his life in Pollsmoor Prison was a day to day battle of survival.

He said: "Drugs are rife and I am at the mercy of the gangs and if I remain in detention I may lose my life as I am not a violent person and I am not able to defend myself in there.

"We are neglected and left to fend for ourselves and my food is often stolen by the gangs," he said.

Mr Curran had just finished a two-year contract as Director of Education for Mellon Educate which is an Irish-based charity founded by philanthropist Niall Mellon.

The Cape Town charity has over 25,000 volunteers who since it was set up in 2002 have helped build houses for 125,000 people in South Africa’s very poorest townships.

It has also built countless schools to help educate over 100,000 children living in poverty.

Mr Curran was taking a two-month break after his two year contract in Cape Town with the charity ended before returning to Ireland before being violently stabbed to death.

He was murdered on November 6 and his body was found by his cleaner the following day.

Mellon Chief Executive Niall Mellon said after the murder: “John was much lover by everyone who met him and especially the thousands of children that he helped”.

He was a respected former school teacher and principal in Dublin before his retirement.

South African Police have charged Mr Onyoka with murder and aggravated robbery alleging the Samsung Galaxy 9 mobile phone was not a gift but was stolen from Mr Curran.

Mr Onyoka dressed in a grey hoodie, jeans and flip flops said nothing as was led to the cells.

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