A Chatsworth man, accused of killing his wife because he was allegedly unhappy with her decision to divorce him and move abroad, pleaded not guilty to murder charges in the Durban High Court this week.
Navin Chanderlal, 54, who is unemployed, is accused of the murder of retired nurse and community activist Vathaniagee “Jennifer” Pillay, 65, on December 24, 2018.
The mother of two was found lying beside the bath in their Silverglen home.
According to the indictment presented by senior State advocate Krishen Shah, Pillay planned to move overseas and live with her children.
Her son lives in the UK and her daughter in Australia.
According to the indictment: “The accused was unhappy about this and decided to kill the deceased. On December 24, and in circumstances unknown to the State, he killed the deceased and left her body in the bathroom of their home.”
A post-mortem established Pillay’s death was the result of suspected compression of the neck.
In a statement, Chanderlal denied that he caused or contributed towards the death of Pillay or planned her death.
In the statement, read out by his attorney Chris Gounden, Chanderlal said he had struggled to remember what had happened on the day Pillay died.
However, more recently he began remembering.
He said on the day of the alleged murder, Pillay, who he had married in January 2003, complained of a pain in her neck. She went to have a nap and so did he.
Chanderlal said he was awakened by the sound of the phone ringing.
“In that sleepy mood, I woke up and walked towards the phone.”
He said it was Gino, Pillay’s son, who had called to inquire about his mother’s whereabouts.
“I think I told him that I thought she was asleep and I think that he told me to wake her up.”
Chanderlal said while going to Pillay’s bedroom, he noticed the keys on the gate and the sliding door were open.
“I then looked outside to check if the deceased was there and I didn’t see her.
“I then went back inside the house to check for the deceased.
“I went up into her bedroom. When I opened the door, I only saw the dogs in her room and she was not there.
“I then exited her room and saw the bathroom door was ajar,” he said.
Chanderlal said when he opened the bathroom door, he saw Pillay lying on the floor.
“She was lying against the bathroom tub. In a state of panic, I rushed to her and felt that she was cold. I moved her, trying to get a response from her. I then ripped out the collar (neck brace) she had around her neck trying to revive her but she was still not responding. I called out her name, still no response.
I then put my hand by her neck to feel if she was breathing and she was cold, and I could not feel her breath. I tried shaking her, among other things that I can’t quite recall at this stage,” he said.
Chanderlal said during this time, he heard the phone ring and answered it.
“It was Gino. I told him what had happened and I think he told me to press the panic button, which I did.”
Chanderlal said he recalled the security company, Pillay’s brother and paramedics arriving at the house.
“I admit further that attempts were made to revive the deceased by the paramedics and that the deceased was declared dead at the scene.”
Chanderlal said he and Pillay were contemplating divorce due to her wanting to relocate with her children abroad.
“And should such a divorce take place, it was going to be an amicable divorce, as I was not willing to leave my family and relocate abroad,” he said.
Chanderlal said he had an income of R4000 a month, which he gave to Pillay to use for their upkeep.
On Monday, pastor Presley Kisten Pillay told the court that he had known Chanderlal and the deceased for about 25 years.
He said they were long-standing members of New Bethesda Full Gospel Church in Chatsworth.
Kisten Pillay said, in May 2018, Pillay was in Australia with her daughter when she messaged him requesting a meeting.
“I met her and Mr Chanderal in July. She had a problem with finance and was having a problem with him not paying the rent while she was at her daughter’s place.”
He said Chanderlal did not speak much and only said he was unemployed, and did not have money.
Kisten Pillay said he was asked by Pillay to pray for Chanderlal in November that year.
“She said that Mr Chanderlal was not coming out of his room and that he was not speaking to her. When I arrived at the home, he greeted me and sat in the lounge.
“He did not respond when I asked him why he was not speaking. I prayed for them and left, as you cannot have a meeting if one person is not speaking.”
Pillay’s son, Gino, testified through a video call from the UK. He said that on December 24, he became concerned when he did not receive a WhatsApp message from his mother. After trying to call for the entire day, someone answered at 5.15pm.
“I could only hear breathing and I tried to get them to speak.” He ended the call but continued trying until 5.45pm when Chanderlal answered.
“I knew something was wrong. He never answers her phone. I asked him where is my mom and in an angry and stern manner, he said, ‘she is sleeping’. So, I told him to go wake her up.
“After waiting for about two minutes, I cut the call and called my aunt to tell her what happened and she said that she would check.
Gino said he attempted to call Pillay’s phone again.
“At 6.05pm Navin answered again and said ‘sorry, sorry, she is gone’.”
He then called his aunt Fathima Perumal again.
Gino told the court he was aware that Pillay planned to relocate. She planned to sell the house and spend time with both her children.
Pillay’s brother Duggie Perumal said when he arrived at the house, paramedics and a security company were already there. He said Chanderlal was trying to open the sliding door.
“I then followed the paramedics up the stairs. Mr Chanderlal went straight into his bedroom and closed the door.”
Perumal said he stood at the bathroom door while paramedics attended to Pillay.
He said Pillay was lying on her left-hand side, her back was against the bath.
“The front of her body was facing towards the toilet. The paramedics straightened her body and continued to do vital tests.
“When they were done, they said she was deceased. I then went into her bedroom and got a duvet to cover her.”
Perumal said he went into the master bedroom and found Chanderlal under the blanket.
“I pulled the blanket off his head and shook him. He murmured.
“I asked him: ‘Do you know my sister is dead?’ He murmured again, something like ‘huh, huh’,” said Perumal.
Perumal added he later walked around the property but could not find any signs of a forced entry.
Fathima Perumal testified that she arrived after her brother-in-law Duggie, and saw Pillay’s body.
She noticed bruises around her arms and neck, and pointed these out to the paramedics.
The trial continues.