Two men convicted of a brutal gangland killing were sentenced to life imprisonment in the Port Elizabeth High Court on Wednesday.
Dewi Walton, 27, and Trenton Ambraal, 33, were earlier found guilty for murdering Rushay Cross and the attempted murder of Pregathon Booth, which took place in September last year in the city’s gang-plagued northern areas.
Gang members Walton and Ambraal went out armed during broad daylight on a mission to take out the men who were from rival gangs in the area. Within two hours after the shooting, the men were tracked down and arrested at a drug post in Highfield Road.
In passing down sentence, Judge Glenn Goosen said that according to evidence before court, it was clear that this was yet another brutal and senseless murder in a war being fought between street gangs.
The men were sentenced to life imprisonment for murder, eight years for attempted murder, 15 years for the unlawful possession of an unlicensed firearm and 18 months for the unlawful possession of ammunition. The sentences will run concurrently. Goosen found that there was direct intention to kill and that the two men acted with common purpose.
Goosen said the murder was coldblooded and callous, executed in broad daylight, with the men having no regard for the community. He said that although the men had grown up in an area where gang activity was rife, it did not justify them becoming involved.
“Prevalence of violence can never be an excuse for participation in violence,” he said.
Goosen also made light of shocking statistics as relayed by Lieutenant-Colonel Mike Grobler during sentencing proceedings. Grobler is the head of the Provincial Gang Investigation Unit, which was set up four years ago to address ongoing gang wars in the city’s northern areas.
Grobler had earlier testified that within the Bethelsdorp and Gelvandale precinct during April 2016 and June 2017, 143 murder cases had been opened, 263 attempted murder cases and 98 cases of unlawful possession of firearm were being investigated.
Grobler said this translated into at least one violent gang-related crime taking place in the area every single day, adding that state witnesses were targeted for elimination despite witness protection programmes and safehouses.
“Witnesses succumb to pressure or intimidation and refuse to testify or change their versions. Gang lords provide assistance to impoverished members of the community and in some instances support an [entire] street financially. Communities in return hide drugs or interfere with crime scenes leaving police and community members powerless to act against gang activity,” Grobler said.
Against this backdrop Goosen said that heinous crimes such as these could not be described as anything other than grave in the extreme. He also took into account the trauma suffered by family members.
“Trauma of family members suffering from gang related violence is self evident, no less if the victims are also associated with gangs, the impact of gang activities are starkly evident,” he said.
Beryldene Cross, the mother of Rushay, suffers from panic attacks following the murder of her son. She broke down in tears after the men were sentenced and recalled the day she fell to her knees and wept upon seeing her son’s lifeless body.
“I am thankful my God, I prayed that they would be caught . The day when my child was laying there I said Father thank you for giving me the power that I have now. Thank you Jesus, I honour you, and I will be more closer to you now my God,” she wept.
According to police, this is the fourth conviction of gang affiliates secured by the Provincial Gang Investigation Unit in the last three days.