Judgment in the Griquatown triple murder trial will be handed down this Thursday in the Northern Cape High Court. The 17-year-old accused faces three charges of murder, rape and defeating the ends of justice.
Deon Steenkamp, 44, his wife Christel, 43, and their daughter Marthella, 14, were shot dead on their farm Naauwhoek near Griquatown on April 6 2012.
This follows a day of drama in court on Monday where Northern Cape High Court Judge President Frans Kgomo questioned the defence on a number of aspects, to which Advocate Willem Coetzee (for the defence) was unable to provide any answers.
Another bombshell was dropped when it was suggested that Deon was possibly responsible for raping Marthella.
Kgomo, on several occasions sat back in his chair in astonishment, and asked Coetzee how he was supposed to believe his explanations.
He pointed out that the accused had a strong character and should not have showed any aversion to Marthella’s blood.
The accused earlier claimed that his T-shirt that was covered in Marthella’s blood, was torn when she had leaned against him and that he had pushed her away when he cringed at her blood.
“Here is a teenager who hunted, who wanted to be a farmer instead of attending school – he was never a withering violet when he took the stand (in court). Marthella was reaching out to the accused in her hour of need,” Kgomo remarked.
He found it implausible that a few hours after the accused had fought with Marthella, he was unable to provide a reason for the argument when questioned by the investigating officer, Colonel Dirk de Waal.
“The accused is passing his grades at school, is he now pretending to have a short memory?”
Kgomo believed that the accused failed to explain why he never called for help in a visibly “stressful and nervous” time, yet he saw it fit to change his bloodstained T-shirt.
“The accused knew that his life was on the brink of devastation.”
Coetzee was also unable to explain why the attacker tortured Marthella before shooting her.
He could not provide any reasons why the attacker never laid a finger on the accused or why he allowed him to move around the farmhouse unhindered and change his clothes.
“He removed his T-shirt because the blood was bothering him. His inability to remember if Marthella had screamed does not mean that he is lying. The accused was 15 years old at the time and the incident happened more than a year ago,” Coetzee stated.
He proposed that the court accept the accused’s version that he had been in contact with Marthella on more than one occasion, both inside and outside the house.
He reiterated that the accused’s T-shirt would not have necessarily been torn during a struggle with Marthella.
“If Marthella was pushing her attacker away from her, she would have torn the T-shirt away from her. The blood could have ended on him (the accused) when she spoke to the accused or coughed.
“It is the prerogative of the State to prove that the accused was the one who pulled the trigger and committed the murders.”
He added that the accused had not mentioned the bakkie that was abandoned along the side of the road because he knew that the farm workers had travelled in it and knew that it belonged to Jan Koopman, a neighbouring farmer.
Coetzee believed that the accused appeared “shocked and traumatised” upon his arrival at the police station in Griquatown because he was not responsible for the murders that were “premeditated”.
Coetzee also indicated that the accused had not religiously enquired about the police’s progress in the investigation because he had accepted that the Steenkamp family had died and that he was informed by the doctor who examined him in Douglas that he was considered a suspect.
He indicated that he had received instructions that there was a possibility of Deon being responsible for raping Marthella.
“The State is using the rape as a motive for the murders. She was found to be sexually active and there is no DNA or semen to prove that the accused was responsible for the injuries to Marthella’s genitals. Nor is there evidence of forced penetration.”
The State, during closing arguments, admitted that its case was largely based on circumstantial evidence, but pointed to “overwhelming probabilities” that counted against the accused.
Advocate Hannes Cloete highlighted the worrisome attitude of the accused under cross examination where he answered questions with pre-programmed responses of not knowing or not remembering.
“This is not surprising, judging from his reaction three days after the murders where the mutilated bodies of Deon, Christel and Marthella, lay on cold, steel trolleys in the mortuary. The post mortems had not been performed yet, while he went to the farm to collect a horse so that he could participate in a gymkhana competition the following week.”
Cloete added that shortly after the cold-blooded killings, the accused was already concerned about the inheritance that was bequeathed in the Steenkamp’s will as well as the future the farms.
He believed that Marthella’s threats to expose the accused of raping her, when he was alone with her the day before her death, had driven him to commit the murders.
“He admitted that the scratch marks on his neck were from Marthella. He knew that there would be serious consequences if anyone found out about the rape. Deon and Christel must have been oblivious to this shocking news, as they were at home and caught unawares by the attacker when they were killed.”
Cloete pointed out that if the accused was involved in a passionate affair with Marthella, it was unlikely that she would wish to inform her parents.
He added that a video shown of the accused firing target from horseback, displayed his skills as an excellent marksman.
“It would seem out of place for an accused of 15 to be able to execute a crime of this magnitude. However, he learnt how to use firearms from an early age.”
He pointed out that this was no ordinary farm murder or assassination.
“There were no signs of a forced entry or a struggle with Deon. The deceased were never tied up and no items of value including cellphones, the radio, music system, television or decoder, were stolen. Firearms were left undisturbed in the safe and no attempts were made to break into the small safe while none of the wallets that contained cash or any of the vehicles were taken.
Cloete believed that the fact that the family members were killed with their own weapons remained a crucial part of the evidence.
“If, as the accused suggested, a person known to the family was responsible for the killings, why would that person hide away for 35 minutes before the murders were committed.”
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