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Prosecutors withdraw charges against man in killing of South African soccer star

11/11/2014 12:35 EST | Updated 01/11/2015 05:59 EST
STELLENBOSCH, South Africa - Murder and robbery charges have been dropped against a man who was arrested in the killing of South African soccer team captain Senzo Meyiwa, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Zenokuhle Mbatha was released because there was "insufficient evidence" to continue with a case against him, National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Nathi Mncube said. Mbatha, who police said is 25, did not appear in court in Boksburg, east of Johannesburg, for the charges to be formally withdrawn Tuesday in order to protect him and his family, Mncube said.

Goalkeeper Meyiwa was shot Oct. 26 in an apparent house robbery while visiting his girlfriend in Vosloorus township near Johannesburg. The killing of the popular player angered South Africans who are used to high levels of violent crime.

After police launched a huge operation to find the killers, Mbatha was arrested two weeks ago and charged with murder and robbery. Police said witnesses identified Mbatha in a police lineup.

But Mncube said some of the evidence against Mbatha was "contradictory" and prosecutors felt they would not be able to secure a conviction on either of the two charges.

Police announced the day after Meyiwa's killing that they were searching for three suspects. Two men entered the house where the 27-year-old Meyiwa was visiting his girlfriend, a South African singer and celebrity, and demanded cellphones, police said. An accomplice waited outside. Meyiwa was fatally shot in an altercation with the suspects, who then ran away, police said.

No other arrests have been announced, although police say they have questioned 13 people. The police force has offered a reward of nearly $23,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killers.

Meyiwa had recently taken over as South Africa captain and helped the country go four games unbeaten in qualifiers for the African Cup of Nations. South Africa will on Saturday play its first game since his death in Meyiwa's home town of Durban as a tribute.

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