The bogus sign language interpreter at last week's Nelson Mandela memorial service was among a group of people who accosted two men found with a stolen television and burned them to death by setting fire to tires placed around their necks, one of the interpreter's cousins and three of his friends told The Associated Press Monday.
But Thamsanqa Jantjie never went to trial for the 2003 killings when other suspects did in 2006 because authorities determined he was not mentally fit to stand trial, said the four. They insisted on speaking anonymously because of the sensitivity of the fake signing fiasco, which has deeply embarrassed South Africa's government and prompted a high-level investigation into how it happened.
Related: 'Fake' Mandela interpreter says he was hallucinating
Their account of the killings matched a description of the crime and the outcome for Jantjie that he himself described in an interview published on Sunday by the Sunday Times newspaper of Johannesburg.
"It was a community thing, what you call mob justice, and I was also there," Jantjie told the newspaper.
Mandela signer accused of burning men: Thamsanqa Jantjie, right, interprets in sign language for President Barack ObamaAP Photo: Evan Vucci, File
Thamsanqa Jantjie, right, interprets in sign language for President Barack Obama during his remarks at a memorial service at FNB Stadium in honor of Nelson Mandela in Soweto, near Johannesburg.
Jantjie was not at his house Monday, and the cousin told AP Jantjie had been picked up by someone in a car Sunday and had not returned. His cellphone rang through to an automatic message saying Jantjie was not reachable.
Instead of standing trial, Jantjie was institutionalized for a period of longer than a year, the four said, and then returned to live in his poor township neighborhood on the outskirts of Soweto. At some point after that, they said, he started getting jobs doing sign language interpretation at events for the governing African National Congress Party.
Jantjie told the AP last week he has schizophrenia and hallucinated, seeing angels while gesturing incoherently just 3 feet away from President Barack Obama and other world leaders during the Tuesday ceremony at a Soweto stadium. Signing experts said his arm and hand movements were mere gibberish.
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