Durban - The family of a mother of two whose body was stuffed in a suitcase after she was strangled feels justice has not been served after one of the two women implicated was given an effective 13-year prison sentence on Thursday.
Sheryl Perumal, 28, pleaded guilty earlier this week to her part in the October 2011 murder of Elaine Pillay from oThongathi (Tongaat). Perumal was accused with Sagree Govender, 46, a pastor at Faith Deliverance Ministries, which Pillay attended.
Govender, who was allegedly having an affair with Pillay’s husband, Thavan Pillay, will know her fate when her trial resumes next year.
Speaking outside the Durban High Court after sentencing, Pillay’s family said Perumal should have been given a longer prison term.
The prosecution asked for a life sentence, but Perumal got 18 years, five of which were suspended for three years.
Perumal said in her plea that she thought Govender was joking when she said Thavan wanted his wife dead - because she would not give him a divorce, so that he and Govender could be together.
Perumal testified that Govender lured Pillay to her house and strangled her with a scarf while Perumal held her down on Govender’s instruction. She said she did everything the older woman told her to do.
Govender had taken Perumal under her wing and into her home after the younger woman was forced to drop out of school in Grade 9 because her family could not afford the fees, the court heard.
Perumal never knew her biological parents and was brought up by adoptive parents. Her adoptive father left when she was 11 and her adoptive mother died three months ago. Perumal also had a stroke in 2011.
Handing down sentence, Judge Themba Sishi said Perumal’s personal circumstances had been taken taken into consideration and weighed against aggravating factors such as the seriousness and prevalence of murder and the fact that the killing was premeditated.
He said Pillay’s minor children had suffered and the family was left broken, especially since their father’s new wife did not want to live with them.
“This not only denied the children of the love of a mother but of a normal family life. Their lives will never be the same again,” said Sishi.
He said he would not deviate from a life sentence for a “flimsy” reason, but noted Perumal’s remorseful demeanour, the fact that she was a first-time offender and that she played a minimal role in the murder. These made her a candidate for rehabilitation.
“She was heavily influenced by the co-accused who is older and manipulative,” the judge said.
Perumal, who had been sitting in the dock with her head bowed, looked up as Judge Sishi handed down the sentence.
Outside the court, Pillay’s family expressed their dissatisfaction. Her aunt, Radha Naidoo, said the effective 13 years was like 13 days.
“Elaine will not be here to see her children (aged 11 and 15 years) grow up. They have been robbed of their mother.”
Pillay’s sister-in-law, Chantelle Francis, who testified in aggravation of sentence on Tuesday, said October had been an exceptionally difficult month for the family.
“Elaine was murdered 12 days after my husband’s father died.”
She said since their mother was also dead, Elaine had stepped in to fill the gap and kept the family going. They had to bury father and daughter within two weeks and had almost no contact with her children, who were in foster care. They believed Perumal should have received a stiffer sentence.
The family was also “bitter” that Thavan was not being prosecuted. He was initially charged with the women but the charges were dropped.
“He has moved on, remarried and abandoned his kids because his new wife does not want them,” said Francis.
“If he… had nothing to hide, he would have been in court and showed concern that his wife’s killers be brought to justice. He has not been here once and he is not arrested,” she said. “There is no law or justice in South Africa.”
Perumal’s family agreed. Her brother, Lewis Naidoo, said Thavan should also have been on trial. But Naidoo was relieved his adoptive sister had not been sentenced to life. “This is for the better,” he said. “It’s over now. She will serve her time and get it over with and come home.”