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George Gwaze: I'm smiling the truth is out there now

Published: 6:46AM Tuesday May 29, 2012 Source: ONE News/ Fairfax

The family of George Gwaze broke into applause when he was found not guilty of violating and murdering his 10-year-old niece, Charlene Makaza.

A Christchurch jury majority today acquitted Gwaze after about 14 hours of deliberation, starting last Friday.

The jury returned to the High Court in Christchurch at 12.45pm today to deliver the verdict. Majority verdicts were reached on two charges, one of sexual violation and one of murder. Yesterday they indicated they were struggling to reach a majority.

Gwaze, a former veterinarian in Zimbabwe, who came to New Zealand in 2004, was accused of attacking Charlene in her bed in the family home in Bryndwr, Christchurch.

He pleaded not guilty to murder and two charges of sexual violation.

Gwaze told media outside the court today he was confident about what the verdict would be and was glad the "truth is out there now".

"I'm smiling. I would like to thank everybody for their support and thank you to my family and friends."

He said in has been a long haul, but they have "managed as a family".

"I know nothing happened to our daughter. Our daughter got sick and she died."

Gwaze, 60, in a neat dark suit and black tie stood calmly in the dock to hear the decision. His face showed little emotion as the jury settled his fate.

"When you know the truth that nothing happened as I have said you know you feel relieved. I was always at ease, very composed, and now this I am very happy."

He said it has been a tough time for him and his family.

"Going to the mall and people looking at you and some people actually coming up to you. It was tough you know.

"Now we can sit down and remember our daughter."

'Tears of joy'

His family and supporters in the public gallery, who had been praying throughout their vigil outside the courtroom, burst into clapping.

His wife Sifiso and four children were in court to hear the verdicts.

She said she couldn't help crying when she heard the verdicts.

"I was just so happy they were tears of joy."

She said she had no time to mourn Charlene but will now have that time.

Charlene's cousin, and the Gwazes' 27-year-old daughter Nothando Musesengwa said the family is "extremely relieved five years later and two acquittals".

"We just want to get on with life the way we're supposed to and most importantly to remember Charlene the way we wanted to remember her and without any of this shroud of doubt."

She said the family is "just going to go home and celebrate."

'Extraordinarily long road'

Gwaze said his lawyer is "a great man".

"I think he'll be a family friend for life. I will never forget this man. He's great he gives me all the encouragement."

Gwaze's lawyer Jonathan Eaton said today was important in New Zealand's legal history.

"It's been an extraordinarily long road. I don't think anybody else in New Zealand legal history has stood on these court steps or any other courtroom steps having been acquitted twice.

"The Gwaze family have been through the ringer with the judicial system.''

He said he "created more than reasonable doubt" and it was "very rewarding" to get the result he believed in.

Detective Senior Sergeant David Harvey said in a statement today that police wanted to acknowledge the "very difficult time" that Charlene's family had been through.

"They have been through a great deal during the investigation and prosecution over the past five years, and we again express our sympathy to them over the loss of Charlene," he said.

The case

Gwaze, who, with his wife, had adopted Charlene and her sister Charmaine when their parents died in Zimbabwe, allegedly injured Charlene in a violent sexual attack on January 5-6, 2007.

Charlene was found by her aunt in bed having breathing difficulties and was rushed for medical treatment. She died on January 7 at Christchurch Hospital.

The Crown contended Gwaze strangled her to death to stop her crying out.

Witnesses for the prosecution claimed Charlene suffered multiple cuts and bruises which seemed to be recent.

And one paediatric expert said there was a large tear on her bottom which had been caused by some kind of trauma.

The defence maintained Charlene had died from the rapid onset of infection connected with her HIV positive condition.

It said her injuries were caused by underlying HIV damage to the tissues possibly aggravated by medical intervention.

Gwaze was first tried on the charges in 2008 when the jury acquitted him after deliberating briefly.

However, the Crown appealed due to the trial judge admitting as evidence the opinion of South African paediatric surgeon Heinz Rode, who met the Christchurch surgeon Spencer Beasley, a Crown witness in the case, at a conference in Hong Kong during the trial.

Rode told Beasley he had seen anal damage in HIV children who had died suddenly and Beasley felt duty bound to convey the information to the court. Rode was not called to give evidence in the latest trial.

In 2009 the Court of Appeal dismissed the Crown's challenge against the acquittal of Gwaze, saying the evidence may have made a difference, but not enough to warrant sending Gwaze back to court.

However, in May 2010 the Supreme Court ordered a new trial saying the evidence should not have been admitted.

For the retrial the defence called four new expert witnesses to say HIV could have killed the young orphan.
Also in the retrial was a concession from the Crown's DNA expert, who found traces of Gwaze's semen on Charlene's underwear.

In the first trial she said it could not have been transferred in the wash, but this time she conceded it could.

The retrial lasted four weeks and heard from about 75 witnesses.

Figures from the Ministry of Justice show that the cost of legal aid provided for the retrial defence of Gwaze is $48,052.66. And that bill is sure to rise as more invoices are expected over the coming weeks. 
The total cost of legal aid for the 2008 trial was $156,296.72.