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STANFORD -- Three black South Africans were convicted Tuesday, Oct. 25, in Capetown, South Africa, of murdering Amy Biehl, a white Stanford graduate and Fulbright scholar who was killed 14 months ago while she was researching women's rights and helping with voter education in preparation for that country's first all-race election.
High Court Judge Gerald Friedman called the murder a "vicious attack" as he announced the convictions in a courtroom packed with about 90 supporters of the accused and friends of the victim, the Associated Press reported.
Prosecutors sought the death penalty for Vusumzi Ntamo, 23; Mongezi Manqina, 22; and Mzikhona Nofemela, 19, who were found guilty in a non-jury trial of killing Biehl, 26, after she was pulled from her automobile and chased down by a crowd shouting the anti-white slogan "One settler! One bullet," in Guguletu township on Aug. 25, 1993.
At the time, many feared racial violence would consume the country, but the first all-race election that brought Nelson Mandela to power was peaceful, and racial and political violence has subsided since.
The death penalty was considered unlikely because executions in South Africa were suspended by the previously all-white government, and current President Mandela's ruling African National Congress favors abolishing the death penalty.
Reached by telephone in Newport Beach, Calif., Biehl's mother, Linda, told the Associated Press that she did not want the killers to be executed. "We are not believers in the death penalty and Amy wasn't." She said she hoped for a sentence that would be "as rehabilitative as possible." The family did not attend final phases of the 11-month trial, which included secret testimony by witnesses who were afraid to testify in open court and the dropping of charges against three other suspects due to other witnesses' refusal to testify.
In South Africa, Evelyn Manqina, mother of one of the young men convicted, wept following the verdict, the Associated Press reported. "I am very worried about Amy Biehl's mother and the family because they lost their child," Mrs. Manqina said. "I am sorry about what my child did to her child."
Biehl earned a bachelor's degree in international relations from Stanford in 1989. While a student, she was captain of the diving team and won the attention of faculty for her honors thesis on U.S. foreign policy toward promoting elections in Namibia. She then worked on democratization issues in Washington, D.C., and was planning to enter graduate school when she was killed.
A memorial service held last October in Memorial Church on campus was attended by 350 people including her parents, who established a scholarship in her memory to provide funds for Stanford and South African students to work on projects related to democratization there.
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