Malita Virali

In 1997, Malita, a young woman with a long history of mental illness, was convicted of murdering her husband and sentenced to the then-mandatory death penalty, despite eye witness testimony that she did not commit the offence.

Malita spent 23 years in prison. At the time she was convicted, Malita was 18 or 19 years old. She had no formal education, had been forced to marry at a young age, and suffered from chronic schizophrenia.

In 2015 Malita’s sentence was reviewed by a High Court judge who granted her immediate release.

Prisoners celebrate Malita's release

Prisoners celebrate Malita’s release

No involvement in the offence

The Village Headman of Malita’s home village told paralegals that on 4 January 1992, he was walking with Malita when they encountered her husband. A quarrel broke out, during which Malita’s husband assaulted her. When a third man stepped in to defend her, a fight ensued, during which the Malita’s husband sustained fatal injuries. There was no suggestion that Malita took part in the fight in any way. However, soon after this incident, Malita was arrested and charged with murder.

Miscarriages of justice and prison

Malita’s trial did not take place until nearly six years after her arrest. She was convicted of murder and was sentenced to the then-mandatory death penalty.

Malita spent one year and six months on death row, fearing she could be executed at any moment. She was never afforded the right to appeal her conviction or sentence. Malita was in prison for 23 years.

Mental illness

Two psychiatric experts, Dr Robert Okin and Dr George Woods have diagnosed Malita as “extremely psychotic” and suffering from chronic schizophrenia. It does not appear that her mental health was ever taken into consideration at trial. She was never able to present evidence about her mental health on appeal.

Dr Okin and Dr Woods agree that Malita’s schizophrenia had a profound effect on her ability to understand the consequences of her actions, to care for herself, and to think in a clear and organised manner. Malita’s mental illness also greatly increased her vulnerability. The Village Headman told paralegals that Malita demonstrated signs of mental illness and was subject to physical and sexual violence by men in her community who took advantage of her vulnerability.

Innocence

Malita’s mental illness means that she was not able give a coherent description of the events leading to her imprisonment for the purpose of her sentence re-hearing. Reliable eye witness testimony from the Village Headman shows that she did not commit the murder for which she was imprisoned for 23 years.

Malita’s unconstitutional mandatory death sentence was reviewed by the High Court and set aside as part of a Re- Sentencing Project funded by the Tilitonse Fund. The project seeks to ensure that all 200 prisoners originally sentenced to the mandatory death penalty are able to access justice and an individualised sentence where mitigating evidence is considered.