Prison parole board to recommend Leigh Matthews’ killer stays behind bars
“It would be an insult to justice for murderer Donovan Moodley to be released on parole,” is the recommendation of the Johannesburg Correctional Services Medium B Prison parole board after a marathon hearing on Friday.
Speaking after an intense session that lasted well over seven hours, the parents of murdered student Leigh Matthews — Rob and Sharon — were filled with joy when parole board chair Ronald Mashadzha told them it was his intention to let justice minister Ronald Lamola, who ultimately signs off on parole decisions, know that their daughter’s killer should remain behind bars.
Moodley is serving life for kidnapping and murdering Leigh in 2004. However, due to a change in the law that applies to lifers topped by credits he has earned for good behaviour, Moodley was entitled to make his bid for freedom — despite having served only 17 years.
“It’s been a tough day. They take away your phones, and you have to go through the process. But we were well treated, the chair and the board were gracious and helpful and supportive. But you still have to go through the ordeal,” said Rob Matthews at a quick post-hearing press briefing at the prison gate.
“Moodley had his chance to speak. But now 17 years later, he is still the same lying, conniving individual he always has been,” Matthews said, adding that though there were no relatives present to support Moodley at the hearing, he told the board that he did see them and they did come to visit.
“We were hoping for answers, but he still doesn’t want to come clean on what really happened,” said Matthews.
Moodley was found by the Johannesburg high court to have kidnapped Leigh, extorted R50,000 in ransom money from her father and then shot her dead with hollow point bullets. Though he has changed his story on several occasions, he still maintains that he shot Leigh and left her body where he killed her.
However, investigators proved that Moodley could not have acted alone, that he had accomplices and they had hidden Leigh’s body in a cold storage facility for 11 days before dumping her body in the veld in Walkerville where it was found by a grass cutter.
The Matthews went into Friday’s hearing hoping that Moodley might have been rehabilitated, that he would be remorseful and finally ready to tell the truth about what had happened to their daughter who died so violently.
“Today Moodley wanted to talk. That much was clear. But he never answered a single question. He was as evasive as ever, and his stories continued along the same lines of ‘me, me, me’ and ‘I, I, I’,” said Sharon Matthews, explaining that the hearing was the first time she had seen Moodley since he was sentenced by the high court in August 2005.
The Matthews family were allowed to present a 131-page written submission in which they laid out the reasons they believed their suffering still counted, and why Moodley should not be allowed to go free. Both Rob and Sharon were given the chance to speak to the parole board, and so was Moodley — who arrived with a guitar case, a pile of books and papers, and represented himself.
And then Moodley was cross-examined and questioned on his submission. He told the family he was sorry and pleaded remorse to the board while continuing to stick to the version that he had acted alone — a version proven to have been a lie. Lawyer Peter van Rensburg of Eversheds, acting for the Matthews family, was present but not allowed to speak. He described the gruelling process as “robust and aggressive and aimed at getting to the heart of things”.
“It was a hard day. It opened up everything and it was sore. It was like going to Leigh’s funeral again,” said Rob Matthews, battling to keep hold of his emotions as he welled up. Sharon wept as she hugged her husband tightly.
“Today we saw no progress. We just carried on from where we left off. Moodley is protecting somebody, and we will never know what really happened. But the good news is the recommendation and so for now we will savour that moment and continue to enjoy our lives,” Matthews said.
“We are grateful to have had this chance and we want to be a voice of hope for others and that people can see through us that there is justice.”
Matthews said they were told that the process now would involve the board’s recommendation being passed on to the minister for a final decision in “a complicated process that could take anything from one month to two years”.
Moodley will return to Medium B, where he remains close to his parents who live in Mondeor. He told the Matthews he had graduated with an LLB degree and a Masters while in prison.
He left the hearing carrying the guitar he has been allowed to keep with him in his single cell.