JOHANNESBURG (AP) — “There was nothing in life I could do without Jayde by my side,” the South African businessman said in his eulogy to his murdered wife.
Christopher Panayiotou’s voice trembled as he delivered the eloquent tribute to schoolteacher Jayde Panayiotou at her funeral last month. The poetic words moved readers of a local newspaper that printed them to comment how sad they were for Panayiotou and how much they wanted the savage killers caught.
Soon afterward, the businessman was himself accused of hiring men to kidnap and kill his wife. The sensational murder case has some South Africans, including the suspect, comparing it to the murder trials trial of Olympian Oscar Pistorius for killing his girlfriend and of Briton Shrien Dewani, who was acquitted of the murder of his wife during their honeymoon.
While the case in the city of Port Elizabeth is not as high-profile as those two earlier cases in South Africa, the spectacle of a husband turning from a sympathetic, publicly grieving figure into a suspect who allegedly orchestrated his wife’s violent death has gripped many South Africans.
It also draws attention to the country’s high rate of violent crime, whether by men against their spouses or girlfriends or by criminals who don’t know their victims. South Africa has struggled with this negative image, even if it is a popular tourist destination where the vast majority of visitors go unharmed.
Panayiotou denies being behind the murder of his wife but acknowledges that his eulogy was plagiarized.
“He did Google it,” Alwyn Griebenow, one of Panayiotou’s lawyers, said Tuesday. “He wanted to say something nice about his wife.”
Panayiotou, who is in prison, was expected in court on Wednesday for a bail hearing. Two alleged conspirators in the murder plot have also been arrested. One, an employee at a club owned by Panayiotou, told police that his employer paid him to help kill his wife, South African media reported.
Jayde Panayiotou, 29, was abducted on April 21 and her body was found the next day.
“Jayde and I were in love and apart from the odd marital argument, which all couples have, we got on very well,” Panayiotou said in an affidavit.
Panayiotou, 28, also noted that prosecutors said they had a strong case against Pistorius, the double-amputee athlete who killed girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in 2013, and against Dewani, who was accused of organizing a hit on bride Anni Dewani in Cape Town in 2010.
However, Pistorius was convicted last year of the lesser charge of negligent killing and sentenced to five years in prison. Prosecutors are appealing. Dewani was acquitted last year and returned to Britain.
Panayiotou had read his eulogy to mourners from a podium, flanked by flowers and a framed photograph of his wife. The speech is similar to a tribute posted on an Internet site titled “Fraught with Peril.”
“She made me feel like the luckiest man alive,” Panayiotou said. “I never quite figured out why she gave her heart to me.”