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It was a brutal and premeditated murder. His petite wife was stabbed 25 times with six wounds inflicted after her death to make sure she was dead, a Pretoria High Court judge told Bronkhorstspruit resident Albert van Vuuren, before sentencing him to life imprisonment.
The 43-year-old man did not show much emotion as Judge Elizabeth Kabushi handed down the sentence.
To the end, he insisted that it was not him who murdered his wife Monica on the evening of July 11, 2010, in the kitchen of their cottage on a farm.
Shortly after sentencing on Thursday, Van Vuuren was thrown a possible lifeline when the judge granted him leave to appeal against his murder conviction and sentence.
His lawyer cited a long list of “errors” he claimed the judge had made in convicting Van Vuuren, mainly centring on the court’s acceptance of the evidence of the State’s key witness, Gordon McCallum.
During the trial, the defence painted a bleak picture of McCallum - a man who confessed that he took strong medication for his bipolar condition together with copious amounts of alcohol.
The court was told that McCallum was an aggressive man who had a history of being in and out of mental institutions.
McCallum lived with the Van Vuuren couple at the time of the murder and only he and Van Vuuren were present the night Monica died.
But earlier when convicting Van Vuuren, the judge said she had no reason not to believe McCallum’s version of events.
McCallum had testified that Van Vuuren and his wife were not on good terms and that she had, two weeks before her death, issued a divorce summons against him.
He said that on the night of the incident he took his usual cocktail of medication with about half a bottle of brandy and went to bed. Later, Van Vuuren, covered in blood, woke him up and told him he had killed his wife. McCallum said he found Monica dead in the kitchen, which was covered in blood.
A policewoman, the first on the scene, also testified that she found Van Vuuren in the kitchen, sitting next to his dead wife and that he told her he had killed her.
Van Vuuren, who insisted he “was not a killer” said he took a tablet that McCallum had given to him to sleep.
He said he remembered nothing apart from “waking up” in a police cell the next morning, with McCallum repeatedly telling him to “remember that he had killed his wife”.
Monica, who weighed 43kg, was stabbed 25 times, mainly in the chest. Four stab wounds were in her heart and six were inflicted after she had already died.
The pathologist who conducted the autopsy had earlier commented that he could not understand the level of violence with which the woman was attacked. Apart from the stab wounds, her jaw was broken and her spine fractured.
Judge Kabushi said this was a particularly brutal murder where a defenceless woman had been mercilessly stabbed to death.
“Murder is a very serious crime. A life taken can never be replaced,” she said.
In describing the wounds, the judge said Monica must have died a very painful death. “She was attacked in her home… She was your wife and she probably trusted you..”
The judge remarked that killing of spouses, especially women, was prevalent in this country - and especially in the court’s jurisdiction.
She cited research findings that said intimate violence was the leading cause of death in women in SA.
Judge Kabushi said women looked up to the courts to protect them and the court had to send out a strong message that this kind of behaviour would not be tolerated.
The aggravating factors by far outnumbered the mitigating factors, the judge said.
In granting leave to appeal against the judgment and sentence, the judge said another court may come to a different finding on some aspects in this case, including on whether or not Van Vuuren took a mind-altering tablet that night.
Van Vuuren’s bail was extended.