The gangster who fought back, with the law

Jeremy Gordin on how Farouk Meyer sought to challenge his unjust conviction

He's a convicted murderer with no legal training who in 2010 added "escapee" to his criminal resume.

But on Monday, Farouk Meyer (36) appeared before the Supreme Court of Appeal, represented by one of the country's most well-known advocates - and it seems he could be out of the notorious Sun City prison before Christmas.

Supreme Court of Appeal Justices Azhar Cachalia, Jeremiah Shongwe and Stephen Majiedt, indicated that Meyer's life sentence for three murders could be reduced by the appeal court to anything from 20 to 30 years.

Meyer has already served a total of 14 years behind bars, including pre-trial incarceration.

So even if his sentence is changed to 30 years, he has done more than a third of his time and should walk out from behind the barbed wire fence that circles Johannesburg's Medium B prison.

But how did a gangster from Joburg's Eldorado Park make his way from a prison cell to the second highest court in the land?

Meyer was sentenced to life in 2000 for murdering three men inside Club 12 Play at Hillfox on the West Rand during a vicious fight between two gangs or two factions of the same gang, the notorious Majimbos.

Meyer handed himself into the police the following day and handed in his firearm.

He claimed he had fired in self-defence at one person only.

The court, though, accepted the police's version - that Meyer had killed three men with two shots, one shot having allegedly gone through one person and into the third.

Later, Meyer claimed that his prosecution had been engineered by certain police officers who were cooperating with a rival gang faction to get a share of Eldorado Park's notoriously lucrative drug trade. But no one wanted to listen to his claims.

Meyer had not finished school and had no support structures and no training in the law.

He asked a relative in Pretoria who had some legal training to help with finding someone to assist in finding justice. But time dragged by.

Then, in May 2010, Meyer escaped from Vereeniging's Groenpunt Prison.

But he didn't try to hide. He had a different idea. He contacted the justice department and said he would hand himself over publicly at Sandton police station on condition his case was re-investigated. He said he had proof that the forensic report dealt with by the court had been inaccurate.

Meyer's case was not re-investigated - and he went back to jail, trying every day to get back into court. He applied to the Constitutional Court but was denied access on technical grounds.

He was assisted from the end of 2010 by the Wits Justice Project (WJP), which investigates alleged miscarriages of justice.

A Johannesburg attorney with whom the WJP connected him approached the man who in the end represented him on a pro amico (no-fee) basis on Monday - the well-known Jaap Cilliers, SC.

Since part of Meyer's case was that some of the investigating officers had misled the court during his 1999-2000 trial, he also tried to enlist the help of Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID). This, too, came to nothing, as did a 2012 petition to the Public Protector.

In 2011, Meyer asked forensic scientist David Klatzow for help and Klatzow responded, visiting the main Pretoria ballistics labs and making public comments relating to ballistics and bullets in the Meyer case.

Still, Meyer pushed on - gathering affidavits and evidence via people like Klatzow - and finally, having compiled his documents himself, he made it to the SCA.

"Even though Mr Meyer has no legal training at all, he has done a remarkable job in putting together these heads of arguments," said Justice Cachalia.

Cachalia said he and his colleagues would consider the merits of Meyer's appeal against the conviction. But Cachalia indicated clearly that - "speaking for myself only at this point" - rather than re-looking at the conviction, there was more merit in looking at an appeal against the life sentence.

Cachalia said this was the way to go because there were signs that Meyer had been sentenced as though the killings had been pre-meditated, which clearly they had not been.

He also told the court he did not wish to prolong the matter any longer than it had already been delayed, and believed the SCA should do the re-sentencing rather than sending the case back to the lower court.

The court therefore reserved judgment but Cachalia said "we ought to be able to set everyone's mind at rest, including the family, before Christmas".

Remarkable about Meyer's SCA appeal was that he was allowed to attend in person by the president of the SCA, Justice Lex Mpati .

Generally, at the SCA, convicted appellants are represented by their counsel and attorneys only. Although his ankles were shackled, Meyer was permitted to wear a suit and to move freely around the court.

Meyer was represented by Cilliers, as well as by Ben Stoop. Prosecutor Zacharias Johannes "Zaais" van Zyl, SC, appeared for the state. Van Zyl, known for prosecution in the Leigh Matthews and various other cases, prosecuted in the original Meyer matter.

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