Kimberley - Ten days have been set aside in March next year to allow the newly appointed defence team to put forward their case in the Griquatown triple murder trial. The case will now continue from March 18 until March 28.
The 17-year-old accused is accused of killing Deon Steenkamp, 44, his wife Christel, 43, and their daughter, Marthella, 14, on their farm Naauwhoek near Griquatown on Good Friday last year.
He is also facing charges of raping Marthella and defeating the ends of justice.
Northern Cape High Court Judge President Frans Kgomo on Thursday “reluctantly” granted a postponement, although he said he was “disturbed” by the “unacceptably” late application.
Advocates Willem Coetzee and Sharon Erasmus as well as the instructing attorney, Stoffel de Jager, on Thursday officially stepped down from the case.
Their legal services were terminated on Tuesday due to “irreconcilable differences” between the guardian of the accused, Bennie Heckroodt, and the defence counsel.
The new defence attorney, Riaan Bode, indicated that a “serious breach in trust” emerged ahead of judgement that was supposed to be delivered on Thursday.
State advocate Hannes Cloete pointed out that no reasons were provided for the late application to postpone the case.
“The court bent over backwards to accommodate the accused. He was given ample opportunity to consult with experts, to plead, cross-examine witnesses and to testify. A number of delays were experienced when the trial was postponed in October to allow the accused to retain the use of counsel, whose mandate was now terminated.”
He stated that during the 21 months of the trial, no concerns were raised regarding the capabilities of the previous defence team.
“The guardian (Bennie Heckroodt) indicated that he was satisfied with his legal representation up until a few hours before final arguments were presented. No reasons were provided as to how the breach of trust occurred.”
He regarded the request for a postponement as a “cynical attempt to manipulate the legal process”.
“We are not playing games in court. Flimsy reasons were given for the breach of trust. If the accused is found not guilty, it will be the end of the story. If the accused is found guilty, he does have a legal representative in court who is able to take instructions.”
He stressed that the State had a duty towards the family of the deceased as well as an obligation to finalise the trial as quickly as possible.
“While a minor should not enjoy more rights than an adult accused, we need to uphold the prescripts of the Child Justice Act.”
Kgomo remarked that while it was an “inconvenience and an irritation”, he questioned whether a further three months spent on the trial would result in a delay in justice.
“The application for the postponement was brought at the 11th hour by the minor accused and his guardian. I have pointed out to Mr Bode and the minor that it was highly undesirable and unacceptable to present this application at this stage as the case was postponed for judgement.”
He believed that, in the interest of a fair trial, it would be worthwhile to grant the new defence team an opportunity to present their side of the case.
“We cannot devise what the new defence team will bring to the table. Notwithstanding my reluctance, I will grant a postponement until next year.”
Family members of the deceased said that while they were hoping to have an outcome before Christmas, they understood the need to postpone the matter and grant the accused a reasonable opportunity. An advocate still needs to be appointed.
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