A warning scream from a court clerk probably saved the life of a prosecutor who was attacked by a knife-wielding rapist who was then shot dead by prison warders in the East London magistrate’s court yesterday.
Witnesses spoke of two shots which killed the 25-year-old convicted rapist and robber, who was appearing on a charge of attempting to escape from prison, where he was serving a life sentence.
They said he had suddenly stormed out of the witness box and rushed towards the prosecutor, but the clerk’s quick reaction helped the prosecutor evade the blow from the homemade blade.
Warders ran in from the corridor and shot the knifeman.
The horrifying events played out in C Court at 10.45am.
Correctional services spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo said the prisoner had come from the East London Correctional Centre where he was serving life imprisonment for rape and robbery.
He was appearing on a charge of attempting to escape from lawful custody.
“[He] was shot dead when he attempted to stab a court clerk and escorting officials inside court, after his cuffs and leg irons were removed at the instruction of the presiding officer [magistrate].
“The offender was armed with a self-made sharpened object,” Nxumalo said.
“The escorting officials fired a warning shot but that did not deter him hence a second shot had to be fired. The inmate succumbed to his injuries and died on the scene.
“The name of the offender cannot be disclosed at this stage as the department is in the process of informing the next of kin.”
SAPS provincial spokesperson Brig Tembinkosi Kinana said: “The man was fatally wounded in the East London magistrate’s court. It is alleged that at about 10.45am the deceased man was supposed to appear before court.
“It is not clear how the knife found its way into the court. However, the prisoner was later certified dead by paramedics.
“The circumstances surrounding the incident will form part of the investigation. An inquest docket has been opened.”
The Dispatch team arrived to see the body in a body bag on the stretcher being loaded into a forensic van. Paramedics were still on the scene.
According to eye witnesses, the prisoner was appearing in court for a 2018 attempted escape case, and was in the witness box, when he drew the knife and charged at the prosecutor.
There were screams and the prosecutor and officials tried to protect themselves behind a table. The attacker turned on a clerk, grabbed at her clothes in the chest area and ripped her court security access card from around her neck.
Two prison warders, who had accompanied the prisoner and who were seated outside court, heard screams and rushed inside and fired two shots towards his upper body, dropping the prisoner, the sources said.
One eyewitness said the prosecutor had just finished cross-examining the accused and the defending attorney was questioning his client when the knife was drawn.
“He seemed angry with the questions asked by the prosecutor. He moved from the witness box and walked straight to the prosecutor,” the witnesses said. “When the clerk saw the knife, she screamed. The prosecutor ran after hearing the scream and narrowly avoided being stabbed.
“Had the clerk not screamed, he would have definitely stabbed the prosecutor. Then the warders came running in and fired two shots. Everything happened very quickly.”
A woman waiting outside the Court C said: “I heard a commotion and I was so scared that I ran away. As I was running towards the entrance of the court building I heard a gunshot.”