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Leigh Matthew’s parents come face to face with Donovan Moodley as he seeks parole after 15 years in jail

The parents of Leigh Matthews, Rob and Sharon Matthews, at the parole hearing of Donovan Moodley, who is convicted for the kidnapping and murder of Leigh in 2005. Picture: Nokuthula Mbatha/African News Agency (ANA)

The parents of Leigh Matthews, Rob and Sharon Matthews, at the parole hearing of Donovan Moodley, who is convicted for the kidnapping and murder of Leigh in 2005. Picture: Nokuthula Mbatha/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jan 22, 2022

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Johannesburg - Sharon and Rob Matthews painfully faced the killer of their daughter with the hope their actions would prevent a murderer walking free and committing more crimes in the future.

Yesterday the parents of murdered student Leigh Matthews got their wish when the parole board at the Johannesburg Medium B Correctional Services Centre, in Meredale told them that if Donovan Moodley was released it would be an insult to justice.

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The parole board’s recommendation is that Moodley remain in jail.

This was the first time in 17 years that the Matthews came face to face with Moodley, sitting across a table just a metre or so away.

Those who saw Moodley described him as looking healthy, well-groomed and sporting a new haircut.

“It was like going again to Leigh's funeral,” Rob said.

The parents of Leigh Matthews, Rob and Sharon Matthews, at the parole hearing of Donovan Moodley, who was convicted for the kidnapping and murder of Leigh in 2005. Picture: Nokuthula Mbatha/African News Agency (ANA)

The Matthews, with their lawyer Peter van Niekerk, who also happened to represent the NGO Women and Men Against Child Abuse (WMACA) who came to support the couple, spent all day yesterday at the hearing.

The Matthews’ had also gone into the hearing hoping that Moodley would reveal the truth about the kidnapping and murder.

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It was on July 9, 2004 when Moodley, abducted Leigh at gunpoint from a car park of Bond University, where the two were studying.

He tied her hands and gagged her before pushing her into the boot of his vehicle.

Shortly after the kidnapping, a ransom demand was made to Matthews' father Rob, who dropped off R50 000 at a toll plaza, south of Joburg.

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Donovan Moodley, moments before he confessed to three of the charges against him for the murder and kidnapoping Leigh Matthews. File picture by Thys Dullaart.

On July 24, 2004, Matthews' body was found in an open veld in Walkerville. She had been shot four times.

Moodley was found guilty in 2005 of murder, kidnapping and extorting money. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder, 15 years for kidnapping, and 10 years for extortion. He has maintained his innocence.

“He is still a lying conniving individual,” Rob said. “He is not an individual who smacks of any sign of remorse.”

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Investigators had suspected that Moodley had had an accomplice.

“So we asked him about who else was involved in the murder and he just waffled around and, took us down a journey that we didn't even ask about,” Rob said.

“And it is always me, me, I, I,” Sharon said.

Rob read an impact statement during the hearing that gave insight into the effect the crime and the loss had on the family.

“By murdering our Leigh, Mr Moodley has destroyed a part in each of us close to Leigh, as well as many people who did not even know her, but followed her plight. Every night before we go to bed, we still step into her room, hoping that by some miraculous act we'll find her there, untouched and smiling, safe and at home,” part of the statement read.

Leigh Matthews. File picture.

Luke Lamprecht, the head of advocacy at WMACA, who also attended the hearing to provide the Matthews family with support, said the Department of Corrections "must really communicate better with the victims”.

“The process (today) consisted of 2 parts: first was the parole hearing where the offender could provide the board and the family with his version of events. The second part was a Victim Offender Process where the victims could ask the offender questions.”

Lamprecht, who could not speak during the hearing, said neither he nor the family were clear on what the next step was.

"A lifer can only be paroled if the minister of Justice approves it. The parole board is only there to listen to representations and make a recommendation to the Minister.

“There is no reason why he should get parole, but we are, however, not clear on why, if the board recommends he not get parole, the minister would still make a final decision.”

One legal expert told the Saturday Star that lifers may apply for parole if they have served a large part of their sentence.

"The board makes a recommendation to the minister. It's ultimately the board's decision and the minister just rubber-stamps the decision," the expert said.

Another lawyer, Gary Trappler, the parole board is obliged to make a recommendation to the minister of Correctional Services, backed up with supporting documents justifying the recommendation.

“The minister either approves it – which is usually the case, or he may decline to confirm the recommendation. If the application for approval is declined by the minister its not appealable. However, the person incarcerated (or his attorneys) may bring an application to the high court for judicial review. In that event, on proper grounds made, the minister’s decision may be set aside on the grounds that he didn’t properly apply his mind to all the facts and circumstances."

Trappler said this is called a judicial review and is a part of Administrative Law; it falls outside of the ambit of Criminal Law.

It could take as long as two years for the minister to make his judgement on Moodley’s parole.

But for the Matthews, yesterday's recommendation from the parole board is a step in making sure Moodley stays in jail.

“He's bloody dangerous. That guy comes off as quite a smooth, benign and empathetic. But boy, behind that is a mind that is spinning and I feel if he got out he would just carry on,” Rob said.

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