South African news broadcaster eNCA revealed Friday that the sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela's memorial has in the past faced numerous criminal charges, including kidnapping, rape and murder.
Thamsanqa Jantjie, whose sign language at the memorial was denounced by deaf people worldwide as gibberish, faced his first criminal charge in 1994 when he was accused of rape. Over the following decade, he also faced accusations of theft, housebreaking, malicious damage to property, and finally kidnapping, attempted murder and murder charges that were filed in 2003.
ENCA says that Jantjie was acquitted of the rape charge and convicted of theft and sentenced to three years in prison. Many charges, however, were dropped after he was found mentally unfit to stand trial. Despite his theft sentence, it is not currently clear if he has spent time in jail.
Details of the 2003 murder and kidnapping case remain hazy, as the court file for the case is mysteriously empty.
Jantjie told a Johannesburg radio station on Thursday he is schizophrenic and was hallucinating visions of angels during the ceremony. He also said his schizophrenic episodes could make him violent.
Revelations of Jantjie's possible mental illness have drawn negative attention to the U.S. Secret Service, which allowed him to stand just a few feet away from President Obama.
Secret Service Deputy Assistant Director Edwin Donovan said Thursday that the vetting of sign language interpreters for a criminal history or other red flags was the responsibility of the host organizing committee, but also emphasized that Secret Service agents are always close to the president, and security measures were in place throughout the Johannesburg memorial.