Durban — A probation officer had recommended that the court deviate from the minimum prescribed sentence for a Phoenix man convicted of murdering his wife, three children, and nephew in a fire he had deliberately started.
However, after learning that the version provided by the accused in an interview of how the fire was started was not what an expert fire witness had deduced, the officer made an about-turn.
Probation officer Zenzele Zulu was on the stand in the Durban High Court testifying when he came to learn that Kista Chetty had excluded this piece of information in their interview.
“This is new evidence to me, I believe with this evidence on its own I'd choose another recommendation …
“From what the accused explained he made it seem like an accident, however, the part I do not understand is how he decided to start a fire in a house that had one exit ... somehow from his position the intention was to kill himself.
“In my professional opinion, he intended to threaten his wife and it backfired,” said Zulu.
He had said this after the State told him that a fire expert witness had found that petrol had been poured on the ground and the fire was set.
During the trial, Chetty’s version was that he had poured a little petrol on his T-shirt that he was wearing. He lit it using a lighter and when it caught fire he took it off and it landed on the petrol container causing the fire to spread.
But he had told Zulu that after his T-shirt landed on the container with petrol there was an explosion.
The fire expert testified during the trial that the container exploding was improbable.
Chetty was convicted of the 2021 murders of his wife Elisha Naidoo, 39, his 13-year-old daughter Jadene, his 9-year-old son Jordan, 8-year-old Aarav (Liam), and his 3-year-old nephew Aldrin.
At the time of the incident, the family lived in a bedroom that they rented at a house on Kidstone Place in Phoenix.
Chetty’s brother-in-law Deon Naidoo and others lived in the lounge of the same house.
He did not want his brother’s wife living with them as he would often make monetary contributions to the house but would later demand his money back from his sister and she would give into the demand.
He and his wife often argued over this, and Chetty also got into arguments with Deon.
Chetty started the fire after an argument with his wife. He had earlier been in a physical fight with Deon following which Chetty was pushed out of the house by his wife and daughter and locked out.
Zulu testified on the report he had compiled for pre-sentencing purposes on Wednesday before Judge Carol Sibiya sentenced Chetty to five life terms for the murders.
Before his about-turn, in recommending that the court deviate from the minimum prescribed sentence, Zulu said that he looked at the fact that his two surviving children needed a father.
Judge Sibiya during arguments for sentence said the two surviving children, aged 14 and 17, weighed heavy on her heart.
“They cried in front of me here in court, that was not acted; it was real, despite them knowing that they were in the position they were in because of what he had done they feel they need him.
“Zulu interviewed the families, some of whom are seen to support a reconciliation. They are the ones who see the suffering of these two girls and they are living day to day with the trauma of these two girls who need their father,” she said.
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