According to reports, a man, who was handed a life sentence after being convicted of rape at the Bloemfontein Regional Court two years ago, has been released after successfully appealing his conviction.

Mthetho Khauta was reportedly arrested for a 2015 rape, two counts of robbery with aggravating circumstances and one of attempted murder. However, Khauta was released on the grounds that the DNA evidence that convicted him was compromised.

According to reports, the rape happened on the night of 27 September 2015. Two suspects took turns raping a woman. The woman and her boyfriend were parked at a secluded spot. Her boyfriend was shot but he managed to flee the scene.

The rapists reportedly disappeared with the couple’s cellphones. Khauta, a 38-year-old taxi driver, was arrested almost a year later. Prosecutors and police charged him with rape on grounds that DNA evidence linked him to the vaginal swabs drawn from the rape survivor. Khauta was also found in possession of one of the stolen cellphones.

Judge Philip Loubser ruled in favour of Khauta during his appeal on the basis that police evidence on the cellphone was flawed as it did not indicate the dates he was found with the stolen property.

“We do not know whether he was in possession a few hours after the incident or only some months afterwards. On its own, the evidence relating to the cellphone, therefore, falls short of proving anything against the appellant,” Judge Loubser said.

Reports say that the DNA was presented to the court in the form of an affidavit by Warrant Officer Eloise Reynolds, a forensic analyst from the Forensic Science Laboratory in Pretoria.

Khauta argued that the DNA did not inspire confidence that it had been handled properly, nor that it was drawn from him and the rape survivor.

To this Judge Loubser responded in Khauta’s favour saying, “In the absence of any further evidence, and in the absence of any further admissions made by the defence in the (regional) court, it is evident there are no indications whatsoever as to the identity of the persons from whom the forensic samples were obtained, under which numbers those respective samples were sealed, and how the sealed bags with the samples ended up in the hands of Warrant Officer Reynolds,”.

“Despite these glaring shortcomings, the trial magistrate found in his judgment that the DNA evidence had placed the appellant ‘right at the scene of the crime’. In this respect, the findings of the magistrate were wrong. As already indicated, it is not even known whether the one sample came from the complainant, and the other sample from the appellant.”

Judge Loubser proceeded to cite a precedent-setting 2016 judgment by acting Judge Tebogo Djadje, which stressed that holes in DNA chain evidence affected its integrity.

“The State must establish the name of each person who handled the evidence, the date on which it was handled and the duration,”.

Judge Loubser said: “I fully agree with the sentiments expressed by the learned acting judge. It follows that the conviction of the appellant, on all four counts, cannot stand.”