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OPINION: Gary Beuthin & the failings of the criminal justice system

When Gary Beuthin was last sent to prison, he stood before Judge Kathy Satchwell in the High Court in Johannesburg with his head bowed as she rebuked him

"Mr Beuthin, you are a man of 44 years old. You are big enough and ugly enough to know better. You should have learnt your lesson a long time ago," she told him. "When I sentence people to 25 years in jail I want them there for 25 years. I see that the kindness of the parole board allowed you the opportunity to go free after only 14 years, in which case I would expect you to immediately wear sackcloth and ashes and spend the rest of your time in church or synagogue or mosque atoning."

That was in 2010 and Beuthin, an infamous 'bad boy', had been out on parole for just five months before being arrested again. Together with an accomplice, he had beaten a former Hells Angel's member with a baseball bat before robbing him of several watches at gunpoint.

Beuthin, a former bodybuilder and bouncer, had a string of offences and convictions under his belt having first broken the law when he was just fifteen-years-old. According to media reports, he dragged his then girlfriend out of her flat by the hair while firing shots into the air. It was also reported that he repeatedly beat up his mother and spent three years in jail for his part in the murder of gay nightclub owner Lourens Snyman in 1984. During that trial, a psychiatrist described him as having psychotic characteristics and projected he would become violent again in the future.

He achieved real infamy in 1992 when he attacked his girlfriend socialite Jill Reeves and kidnapped her for twelve days. During that trial, it emerged that he had beaten her unconscious in the face with his fists, dragged her across a floor and jumped on her head. In August 1993 he was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison. According to The Star, Judge MJ Strydom ordered that the sentences of eight years for the attempted murder of Reeves, 12 years in jail for her kidnapping and two years for attempted bribery of a witness run concurrently. He was also sentenced to three years imprisonment for assaulting Reeves and ten years for stealing a car.

But on 8 June 2007 he was released on parole. At the time, the Rhema Church issued a statement saying that Beuthin had regularly been visited by a pastor in prison and he had attended church after his release. Nevertheless, just five months after being paroled, he was back behind bars for the Hells Angel's attack.

Satchwell convicted Beuthin as part of a plea deal and sent him to prison for seven years. As part of the arrangement, he admitted guilt for some of the charges he was facing. In exchange, the seven-year-prison sentence would run concurrently with any other sentence that he had yet to complete and the State agreed to not implement another suspended sentence imposed on him in 2005 for a separate offence.

It seems as though it may have been too sweet a deal and could explain why just seven years later, Beuthin was back on the city's streets getting up to no good. He was arrested in Edenvale last Friday when the police pulled over a suspicious-looking vehicle. Beuthin allegedly had drugs in his possession and an unlicenced firearm. He spent the weekend behind bars and appeared in court on Monday. Police confirmed that at the time of his arrest, he was facing other charges. It's unclear what those are, but somehow they managed to escape the glare of media attention.

This latest development begs the question - why was Beuthin not in jail at the time of his arrest? Having served two thirds of his sentence, it is likely that he was released on parole yet again. The Correctional Services Department is yet to respond to this query, while the National Prosecuting Authority and the SAPS say it is not for them to comment.

But looking at Beuthin's long track record of crime and a lifetime of offences, it is a perfect mirror for examining the country's crime-fighting capabilities and how the wheels of justice turn. It forces us to reflect on why someone of this nature has not been rehabilitated despite spending decades in correctional facilities and is allowed into society despite being a habitual criminal. It presses us to confront the reality of whether cutting deals with criminals is really worth it - while it expedites trials and secures convictions, it does translate into shorter jail terms and more likely prospects of early releases.

The story of Gary Beuthin exposes the flaws of the system, groaning under the weight of repeat offenders and an alarmingly high volume of cases. Prisons are too full to keep convicts in for life, the courts are too overloaded for exhaustive trials to be heard and detectives are too swamped and overworked to pay sufficient attention to every accused. Parole officers are also likely too stretched to effectively monitor every convict on their radar and it's easier to allow them to wander beyond correctional facilities with the freedom to offend again.

Beuthin's case should be viewed as a lens into the country's criminal justice system, highlighting the deep-rooted problems that will continue to result in dangerous criminals like him roaming free and endangering society, if they are not fundamentally addressed.

Mandy Wiener is a freelance journalist and author working for Eyewitness News . Follow her on Twitter: @mandywiener

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