Kimberley - At 8.45am on Thursday morning Northern Cape High Court Judge President Frans Kgomo will start his long judgment in the Steenkamp murder trial and, while the 17-year-old accused in the case will know his fate on Thursday, he can be assured of one thing . . . if found guilty he will not spend the rest of his life in jail.
Earlier this week Kgomo warned that he would be giving a long judgment and proceedings will start an hour and 15 minutes earlier than usual.
The boy pleaded not guilty to killing Deon Steenkamp, 44, his wife Christel, 43, and their daughter Marthella, 14. He was also accused of raping the girl and defeating the ends of justice.
The trial, which has made international headlines, is now nearing its end, almost two years after the massacre on April 6 2012.
The teenager, who was 15 years and eight months old at the time of the incident, turns of age (18) on August 15 his year.
After judgement is delivered and if the verdict is one of guilt, a social worker’s report will be compiled to give a background of the personal circumstances of the accused as well as his ability to rehabilitate.
If found guilty, the judge will hand down sentence. If found not guilty, the accused will walk out of court a free person.
According to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the money paid for bail is paid back upon the conclusion of the case, regardless of the guilt of the accused.
The minor was arrested on August 22 2012 and first appeared in the Griquatown Magistrate’s Court on August 24 2012.
The case was transferred to the Northern Cape High Court in September 2012 where over 30 State witnesses, including fingerprint, ballistic and blood-splatter analysts, forensic pathologists and an astronomer from the South African Observatory, were called in to testify.
The trial has not been without its twists and turns, including the guardian having to apply for funds to be released from the estate of the Steenkamp family to cover the legal fees that reportedly exceeded a million rand.
The accused and guardian, at the eleventh hour, fired the defence team and appointed a new legal representative a day before judgment in December.
The court also had to grapple with statements from a right winger, Cornelia de Wet, who confessed that she, along with a “hit squad”, executed the attack on the farm . . . and was paid R10 000 for the murders.
A legal expert yesterday said that the South African justice system did not prescribe life sentences or sentences exceeding 20 years for minors (children under the age of 18 years).
“Both rape and murder are classified as Schedule Six offences and are both considered to be serious. However, the minimum act does not apply for minors and it is entirely left to the discretion of a judge to decide on a suitable sentence, based on the circumstances of the accused.”
He explained that sentencing for a minor could range between anything from a suspended sentence, a fine, a few months or up to several years in prison.
The legal expert also pointed out that a sentence was determined based on the age of the accused at the time of the offence and not on the age of the accused when the trial was concluded.
“Previously the prosecution of children was considered to be a grey area ... life sentences could be imposed on a minor if exceptional circumstances could be proven, although this is no longer the case.”
Upon conviction the prosecutor could ask for bail to be withdrawn and, if granted, the accused will immediately be sent to jail after judgement.
“The accused’s legal representative will argue that bail should be extended pending sentencing.”
He also stated that, if found guilty, an accused can appeal.
“Based upon the merits of the case, the defence would have to convince the court that another judge would arrive at a different conclusion. It is then up to the judge to grant leave for appeal.”
He stated that any inmate was eligible for parole, usually after serving half of their prison sentences.
“There is a juvenile facility at the Kimberley prison. Once the inmate reaches the age of 18, he or she is considered to be an adult and will be transferred to a correctional centre for adults.
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