JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – A white farmer convicted in the murder of one of his former black workers who was thrown into a lion (search) enclosure was sentenced Friday to life in prison.
Mark Scott-Crossley (search) and one of his employees were convicted in April of the January 2004 killing of Nelson Chisale (search) in a case that shocked a nation still coming to grips with its apartheid past.
Scott-Crossley's employee and co-defendant, Simon Mathebula, was sentenced to 15 years because the judge said there were substantial and compelling circumstances to justify a lesser sentence.
Chisale, 41, had been fired two months earlier for apparently running a personal errand during work hours. When he returned to pick up some belongings, he was beaten with machetes, tied up, driven to a nearby lion reserve, and thrown over the fence.
Judge George Maluleke in the northern town of Phalaborwa said court guidelines say life sentences should be imposed when society needed to be protected from the possibility of a repeat offense or because the offense was so monstrous that it demanded harsh punishment.
"No crime fits this description more than the one before me and there is no doubt it would warrant this extreme punishment," the judge said.
According to testimony at the trial, Chisale was assaulted with machetes on Jan. 31, 2004 and tied to a stake. After being tied up and bleeding for six or seven hours, Chisale was taken to the Mokwalo White Lion Project and thrown over the fence, screaming as the animals tore at his body.
Maluleke said Scott-Crossley had masterminded the attack, forcing his employees to participate in the crime.
Witnesses at the trial portrayed Scott-Crossley as a man with a history of aggression and violence.
The judge said Mathebula had limited participation in the crime and had nothing to gain from the death of Chisale, whom he had befriended and visited.
"More importantly, he disclosed to the police his complicity in the crime shortly after he was arrested," the judge said.
The trial of a third defendant, Richard Mathebula, a former Scott-Crossley employee who is no relation of Simon Mathebula, was postponed until November because of illness. A fourth man originally accused, Robert Mnisi, was given immunity from prosecution when he agreed to testify for the state.
Scott-Crossley, who was married by a magistrate Friday morning before his sentencing, was led from the courtroom along with his new wife. His attorney, Charl van Tonder, said the verdict and the sentence would be appealed.
Mathebula's legal aid-appointed lawyer, Mduduzi Thabede, also said he intended to appeal.
The case highlighted the currents of violence that run through impoverished rural areas, as well as the harsh treatment meted out to farm laborers, who are usually black or mixed-race, by their bosses, who are usually white.