The case against Constantia murder accused Rob Packham ended this week and resumes next month, and Karen Watkins looks at some of the highlights.
Mr Packham has pleaded not guilty to murder and defeating the ends of justice. His wife Gill’s charred body was found in the back of her burnt-out green BMW at Diep River train station on Thursday February 22 2018.
On Tuesday March 26 Rob Packham, 58, played hide-and-seek with the media in the Western Cape High Court after his trial was postponed to Monday April 15.
He had been talking to his daughters when a court official escorted him to the holding cells after the trial was adjourned. He turned around, blew a kiss to his daughters and then realised journalists were photographing him. He ducked behind the wall and peeped out a couple of times to see if he was still being photographed, before smiling at the cameras.
Seated in the front row of the courtroom were daughters Nicola and Kelly and her husband, and Ms Packham’s sisters. The family have been alternating at each court session which normally takes place from 10am to about 11.30am, breaks for tea and then resume again at 2pm until about 3pm when the accused has to return to prison.
Mr Packham stands in the dock at the centre of Court 6, accused of the murder of his wife, Gill, who would have turned 57 last week if she was alive. Her charred remains were found on February 22 last year in the boot of her burnt-out BMW at Diep River train station after the fire was extinguished. She was identified by DNA match.
Mr Packham has pleaded not guilty to the murder and a charge of obstruction of justice.
Witnesses have said that Mr Packham has lost weight since he was incarcerated at Pollsmoor Prison in December. He also wears glasses now. Dressed in navy jacket and tie, he fiddled with a pen, occasionally making notes and passing them to advocate Craig Webster who in turn confers with Mr Packham’s lawyer Ben Mathewson.
The state closed its case on Monday following testimony by cellphone specialist, Warrant Officer Reece Harvey of Kirstenhof police.
Sitting in the front bench next to Mr Mathewson, was crime intelligence officer Paul Scheepers, who was allegedly hired by Helen Zille to spy on her opponents and DA colleagues.
Ms Zille said the provincial government hired Mr Scheepers’ company to debug cellphones and has denied the spying allegation. He was suspended from service.
Warrant Officer Harvey had created a timeline using cellphone and CCTV footage. This showed that Mr Packham was at the scene of the crime at 2.37pm and based on evidence before the court from a vehicle licence plate recognition expert.
Mr Webster objected to Warrant Officer Harvey’s testimony, arguing that it was based on “supposition” and “reconstruction of the events”. He said it “creates an atmosphere where there is no justification for it”.
Judge Elizabeth Steyn asked Warrant Officer Harvey to continue and to report on facts and not supposition. The timeline showed cellphone data of calls and automatic messaging as well as GPS locations from both of Mr Packham’s phones, that of his mistress and his wife.
On February 21 at 12.05pm, the day before Ms Packham went missing, Mr Packham’s phone was at the Clock Tower, Waterfront.
According to previous testimony by his mistress, who cannot be named due to a court order, she had told him “it’s either her or me” (‘Week two: Mistress testifies in Packham trial”, Bulletin, March 21).
Mr Packham later went to the marriage guidance counsellor. He and Gill were undergoing marriage guidance counselling and according to Nicola’s testimony this was going well and the couple had planned on renewing their marriage vows and her father had given her mother a ring.
On the eve of Gill’s disappearance her phone was switched off from 9.04pm and was only activated again on the morning of her disappearance from 7.03am to 7.09am.
Mr Packham’s phone was activated at 7.28am on February 22 and activated again at 9.53am. Video footage shows him leaving the family house at 7.34am. His “discreet” phone was activated at 8.46am at Greenways Hotel in Claremont. Warrant Officer Harvey said during the two hours that the phone was off Mr Packham received numerous calls that were marked as call forwarding by Vodacom, and an SMS at 9.54am.
From 11am to 2pm his phone connected to cell towers in Wynberg, Constantia, Steenberg, Claremont, Bishop’s Court, Silvermist and Hout Bay.
At 2.11pm video footage and cellphone data show the BMW parked in Quintus Way, Diep River. This corresponds to testimony given by BKM patroller Paul Gray who had been on patrol on the day Gill went missing. He had said he was suspicious after noticing a green BMW with no number plates or licence on the corner of Lucius Way and Martius Way, The Vines.
At 2.30pm Mr Packham’s cellphone is picked up at Diep River police station and again at 2.37pm at Diep River train station.
At 5.29pm his cellphone was linked to a cell tower in Wynberg police station.
It was picked up again at 9.30pm at Diep River train station shortly after the BMW was burnt. According to previous testimony this time agrees with that of witness Keanan Thomas who identified Mr Packham from a photo identity parade at Hout Bay police station as the person running away from the scene.
The timeline shows that when Mr Packham was called to the scene later that night by Diep River police his phone was off. GPS cellphone records show he was at the scene, in Massinger Road and De Waal Road.
Mr Packham’s cellphone was later picked up at the Riesling Road home at 10.17pm. His cellphone was picked up again on the morning of February 23 on the Atlantic seaboard.
During cross examination Mr Webster argued the technical nature of cellphone signals at the different towers and the possibility that they overlapped. He argued that signals are dynamic and switch from one tower to another due to the strength of the signal. He said influences can include line of sight, structures between towers and the amount of capacity.
This brought the States case to a close.
On Tuesday March 26 Mr Webster called two police officers, however, the only testimony heard was that of Warrant Officer Steven Young of Diep River police station because the other officer is overseas.
The examination did not yield any dramatic evidence as Mr Webster asked Warrant Officer Young if he had commissioned a statement by state witness Mr Thomas on February 23 2018. Asked if there was anything out of the ordinary with the way in which Mr Thomas’ statement was commissioned, Warrant Officer Steven Young replied, “Not to my knowledge.”
Mr Packham is expected to testify in his defence when the trial resumes in the Western Cape High Court next month.