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Amy Biehl's Killers Get 18-Year Sentences : South Africa: Judge could have imposed the death penalty on the three men. Instead, he says they might be rehabilitated.

October 27, 1994| From Times Wire Services

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — A judge on Wednesday gave the three killers of American student Amy Biehl 18 years in prison instead of the death penalty, saying they have a chance to become useful citizens despite showing no remorse.

Mongezi Manqina, Mzikhona Nofemela and Vusumzi Ntamo, all members of the black militant Pan Africanist Student Organization, might appeal their convictions in Biehl's Aug. 25, 1993, slaying, defense lawyer Justice Poswa said.

High Court Judge Gerald Friedman said Biehl "was killed for one reason only, namely because she had white skin."

But he said he rejected the death penalty because there is a chance that Biehl's killers can become useful citizens "despite the fact that they have shown no remorse."

Friedman noted that Biehl had come to South Africa to support the cause of the disadvantaged.

A Fulbright scholar from Newport Beach, Biehl was in South Africa helping to educate voters. She was set upon by a mob chanting anti-white slogans when she drove black friends home to the impoverished Guguletu township outside Cape Town. She was bludgeoned and stabbed to death.

"This was a coldblooded and brutal murder carried out by a mob on a defenseless young girl of 26 who had already sustained a serious injury to her head from which she was bleeding profusely," the judge said in a solemn voice.

Poswa said he will explore an amnesty for his clients.

Prosecutor Nollie Niehaus said he would oppose any such move.

"I think they must serve 18 years, full stop," he said.

If the three men can demonstrate to a proposed commission that their crime was politically motivated, admit their guilt and give a full account of their actions, they could qualify for amnesty under a bill now before Parliament.

The bill is designed to help heal the wounds of the country's apartheid past as South Africa begins a new democratic era. Poswa said that he would discuss the amnesty program with his clients, who have not admitted guilt.

Biehl's father said that he and his family are at peace with the sentence.

"Any sentence cannot bring Amy back," Peter Biehl said in Newport Beach. But he said he hoped the killers can be rehabilitated.

"If they survive the 18-year term, they'll be 40 or so when they get out," he said. "I hope they make more productive use of their lives."

Biehl's mother, Linda, said she is satisfied with the sentence because the deaths of her daughter's killers would not "be helpful in any way."

Outside the courtroom, two dozen young blacks chanted "Settler! Settler! Bullet! Bullet!" and ran through the streets after learning of the sentence. "Settler" is a term used for whites by black militants in South Africa.

They also shouted "One settler, one bullet," the same chant that witnesses said they heard just before Biehl was murdered.

Ntamo's mother, Nomhle, said she felt more sorry for the victim's parents than for herself.

"She's gone, and they won't see her anymore. Our sons are coming back," she said.

A Pan Africanist Congress official, Yasien Mohamed, said it was apartheid, not the three youths, that caused Biehl's death and that the sentence was "too much."

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