- S v Justin Pierre Rautenbach Case No: SS 40/2006, High Court, Johannesburg, dated 24 December 2020 (GSJ)
Mr Justin Pierre Rautenbach, the accused, was convicted before a single judge of the High Court in Johannesburg (“the trial judge”) of (1) the murder of his father; (2) illegal possession of drugs; (3) three counts of theft of items belonging to his late father; (4) unlawful possession of a firearm; and (5) unlawful possession of ammunition.
The trial judge sentenced the accused to an effective sentence of 18 years’ incarceration with a further six months’ incarceration conditionally suspended for five years.
The judgment by the trial judge is reported as S v Rautenbach 2014 (1) SACR 1 (GSJ).
This case arose from the death of the accused’s father (“the deceased”) on the night of 18 December 2011. His body was found in the garage of their house. The deceased had been shot with his own .303 rifle. The bullet passed through the palette in an upward trajectory (flight path) which meant that the barrel (Afrikaans: “geweerloop”) of the rifle was in the deceased’s mouth when the shot was fired. Accordingly, the main issue in respect of the murder charge was whether the cause of death arose from the bullet wound and, if so, whether the deceased had placed the rifle there himself and taken his own life (committed suicide), or whether the accused had killed (murdered) the deceased?
The accused was not impressed with his convictions, as well as with the sentences imposed upon him. In the result, he appealed against it to the same High Court in Johannesburg where the appeal was heard before a full bench of three judges (“the appeal judges”).
After hearing the appeal, the appeal judges delivered their judgment consisting of 52 pages and 165 paragraphs. Of importance (and of interest) to readers of this column, are paragraphs 86 to 95 of the appeal judges’ judgment where they unanimously (all three judges concurring) remarked as follows:
86. The penetrating bullet wound through the palette in an upward direction, described as a “burst head” wound, was not the only injury noted in the autopsy report. It was one of five wounds that were noted. The report was admitted into evidence by agreement thereby rendering it unnecessary for the pathologist to testify or explain his report.