Lawyer Killed in Court When Shotgun Submitted to Evidence Goes Off

Addelaid Ferreira-Watt, a prominent South African attorney, was killed after a shotgun that had been entered as evidence in a robbery trial was accidentally dropped and fired into her leg.

News24 reported that the gun was being held by a police officer in Umzimkhulu Regional Court when it slipped from his hands and hit the floor. The shotgun released a shell into Ferreira-Watt's left hip. She was rushed to the hospital but doctors could not save her life.

An inquiry has commenced into how the accidental shooting could have happened.

The trial concerned the case of five men who were accused of robbing Cheryl and Dave Biggs at their Ixopo farm in 2014. The court alleges that the defendants Tased the victims, held them at gunpoint and beat them. A number of procedural issues had prevented the case from making it to trial until November 2019.

The shotgun belonged to the victims, and it was retrieved by police from the suspects and returned to their possession, as they needed it for home defense. On Monday the couple returned it to the police so it could be submitted as evidence in the trial.

It is unknown why the weapon was not unloaded before it was taken into evidence, or why it was not inspected before being brought into the courtroom. Cheryl Biggs told the press that she did not remember if the weapon was loaded or not when she handed it over to police.

"There is a pending criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding the discharge of the firearm in court. At this stage, due to the investigations proceeding in the matter, we are unable to provide further details about the incident," National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Kholiswa Mdhuli said in a brief statement issued after the incident.

Ferreira-Watt had spent nearly 27 years in her position as a senior State advocate. She was a devoted mother and avid collector of art. By some accounts on her social media, she was considering retirement.

Shootings in courtrooms are rare, but notable. In October, Chief Judge Kanakorn Pianchana of Thailand's Yala trial court shot himself in the midsection after delivering a not guilty verdict to five Muslim men accused of murder.

Pianchana had written a 25-page manifesto alleging that political forces in the country were making it impossible to do his job fairly, and accused the army of forcing confessions from Muslim suspects during Thailand's long-running civil insurgency. The judge survived, but is under investigation for discharging a firearm in the courtroom.

A shotgun that has just been fired
A shotgun that has just been fired IndiaUniform / Getty Images