Griquatown trial: Why were lawyers fired?

Crime & Courts

Kimberley -

In a bizarre twist, the media has requested that the courts reveal why the Steenkamp triple murder trial was postponed and the defence team of the 17-year-old accused replaced.

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Defence Lawyer, Stoffel de Jager, prepares before proceedings gets under way. In the background are the handful of family members who attended the court case at the Kimberley High Court yesterday. Some of the family included the mother and father of deceased Deon Steenkamp, Don and Bettie Steenkamp, Marthie and Marieta Massyn, mother and sister of Christel Steenkamp. Picture: Lizéll MullerAdvocates Willem Coetzee and Sharon Erasmus have a chat before court proceedings get under way. Marianna Smith (sister of deceased Deon Smith) testified yesterday. Picture: Lizéll Muller

An urgent application was submitted to the Northern Cape High Court.

The central figure in the trial is a 17-year-old teenager who is accused of the cold-blooded murders of Deon Steenkamp, 44, his wife Christel, 43, and their 14-year-old daughter Marthella. They were killed on their farm Naauwhoek on April 6 2012.

They were shot several times while the accused also allegedly raped Marthella before her death. He also faces a charge of defeating the ends of justice.

The accused and his guardian, Bennie Heckroodt, who are opposing the application, suspended the services of the legal team shortly before judgment was to be delivered on December 14 last year.

The legal services of attorney Stoffel de Jager as well as advocates Willem Coetzee and Sharon Erasmus were terminated, with no reasons provided other than “irreconcilable differences”.

The former legal team were also unable to provide further insight into the reasons for the delay in the trial.

Up until the date that judgment was supposed to have been delivered, the only witness called to testify by the defence was the accused.

The new legal representative, Riaan Bode from Engelsman, Magabane Attorneys, previously mentioned that a “serious breach of trust” had occurred between the guardian and the defence counsel.

Northern Cape High Court Judge President Frans Kgomo reluctantly granted the postponement on December 14, and set aside 10 days in March to allow the new legal representatives to present its side of the case.

According to papers presented in court in support of the application, it was stated that the case had attracted as much public and media interest as that of the “Modimolle Monster”, Inge Lotz and Oscar Pistorius’ alleged murder of his model girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

The papers stated that many questions had arisen surrounding the last-minute replacement of the defence counsel.

“There were no indications before December 12, 2013 that there was any unhappiness regarding the expertise of the previous defence team. No reasons were provided for the breach of trust that arose while the documents containing the application to postpone the case until March 18, were never released to the media.”

According to the application the reasons (for the dismissal of the defence team) were necessary to report on the matter objectively and to end speculation over the reasons for the delay of the trial.

“The general public would also be informed about the reason for ending the mandates of De Jager, Coetzee and Erasmus, should any information be provided

There was a strong likelihood that the trial could be reopened by the Directorate of Public Prosecutions.

“It could lead to misleading reporting if the media does not have access to the reasons provided in the application for the postponement.”

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