A well-known psychiatrist, Maxwell Matjane on Wednesday, told the High Court in Pretoria that his wife, who was convicted of murdering her two young sons, was a very loving and caring mother.
Rehithile Katlego Matjane, 34, was on Tuesday, December 5, found guilty of killing her two boys, shot at point-blank range in a field in Hammanskraal on April 17, 2015.
The Pretoria east mother claimed that over-the-counter medication drove her to a psychological breakdown – during which she shot dead her children.
Judge Hans Fabricius, who found her guilty of premeditated murder in the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, said there were also inconsistencies in the mother’s version of events.
He said that following testimony by expert witnesses the likelihood that she had shot her children as a result of the side-effects of medication was unlikely.
The medication varied from mostly Schedule 2 substances and a few Schedule 3 substances which required prescriptions.
Moreover, said Judge Fabricius, the mother’s account of what happened had steadily changed over the course of the trial in order to coincide with her defence.
‘Medicine mom took on day of killing sons couldn’t have led to actions” he said.
In her defence, she claimed the medication caused a psychiatric breakdown which led to “sane automatism” on the fateful day.
She blamed her behaviour on a host of painkillers she had been taking for migraines and menstrual pains for five days leading up to the shooting.
The medication included Symbicord Turbohaler, which belonged to one of her children, as well as Mypaid Forte, Migril and Empacod. She said she had also had a glass of wine during lunch, Red Bull and several sport supplements.
Matjane’s defence was that the sane automatism, which manifested in short-lasting psychotic depressive episodes, led to the shooting.
She admitted to killing 2-year-old Alvero and his 6-year-old brother Keyondre at the deserted spot near Hammanskraal. She had driven there with them after picking them up from school.
Alvero suffered a single bullet wound to the side of his head, while his brother was shot in the forehead and in his lower right arm. He took the second bullet as he tried to protect himself.
However, Matjane claimed to only have “snapshot” recollections of what happened that afternoon.
She said she started to feel “very sad and lonely” on the second day of using all the medication and developed suicidal thoughts.
She claimed that on the day of the incident, at about lunchtime, her desire to commit suicide was so strong she fetched her husband’s firearm from the safe and sat in the car crying.
She said she decided against killing herself, went to have lunch, which included a glass of red wine, and then fetched the children from school.
Her last recollection was of strapping herself and her children in the car and the next waking up in a field.
The following thought was that of her eldest son lying in a pool of blood next to the car. She then frantically called out to her youngest son, but was met with the image of him slumped in the front seat.
Judge Fabricius said that despite being questioned, Matjane had not provided a reason why she had driven out to Hammanskraal as she was not experiencing the psychotic behaviour during that time.
“If she had been experiencing sane automatism then she would have snapped out of it after shooting the first child. There is still no explanation why she shot the second child twice,” he said.
Additionally, no clear indication was given regarding the quantity of the medication she had taken.
Defence advocate Piet Pistorius had said his client had foamed at the mouth after the incident due to the toxicity of the medication.
But Judge Fabricius said Matjane had also not told all the psychiatrists who evaluated her that she had taken the rest of the medication in the car after she had shot the children.
He said neither Matjane nor her husband, Dr Maxwell Mat had made mention in their testimonies of her experiencing depression, although most of the evidence given by the experts bordered on the instance of depression.
“Even the husband, a psychiatrist, did not mention that his wife showed any signs of clinical depression. He simply stated that she was not her usual self and seemed down,” Judge Fabricius said.
Matjane launched a formal application for her bail to be extended pending sentencing proceedings in March next year.
State prosecutor Bakedi Maoke opposed bail, arguing that Matjane was a flight risk or might try to commit suicide as she now faced two life sentences. Matjane testified that she was still breast-feeding her 10-month-old baby, who was born early this year, and had no nanny at home to take care of her child.
The state pointed out that Correctional Services allowed babies to remain with their mothers in prison until the age of two. Matjane testified that she loved her child and husband very much, enjoyed her husband’s support and had no intention of fleeing.
Testifying in the renewed bail application by his wife, Dr Matjane described her as a very loving, caring mother. He said she worked for him in his practice and they jointly owned properties that were held in a trust, although she also owned a house in Nigel.