Murder accused’s ‘strange pregnant stomach’

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Loretta Cooke THE STAR Loretta Cooke at the Palm Ridge Magistrates Court. Photo: Bhekikhaya Mabaso

Johannesburg - For someone who was pregnant, Loretta Cooke’s stomach was strange. It did not protrude - as would be expected.

Testifying at the weekend in the South Gauteng High Court sitting in Palm Ridge, her colleague Zelda Cronje said she had just told herself it was because Cooke was overweight.

She said Cooke had submitted a note from a Dr Diphoko from Pretoria, who had written that she was six months’ pregnant and would be admitted to hospital in December, and that the mother and child were doing fine.

Cooke also told Cronje she was expecting a girl. The child’s father’s name was Thabo and she would name the baby girl Lethabo, a combination of their names.

Cooke took maternity leave in November and Cronje threw her a baby shower, Cronje said.

Pictures taken from that day and presented in court show a happy Cooke with presents and snacks all over the table.

The following month, Cronje tried to find out whether the baby had been born, she said. She called and sent Cooke messages, but there was no response.

Cooke is on trial for murder and attempted murder.

The State alleges that Cooke faked a pregnancy and on January 6, 2012 invited a pregnant Valencia Behrens to her house on the pretext of giving her a pram.

When Behrens got there, she allegedly overpowered her, tied her legs with a belt, then cut her open with the intention of stealing her baby.

It is believed that Cooke used a blade to cut Behrens.

The baby girl received a cut on the side of the head in the incident. It survived, but Behrens bled to death.

Cooke, 32, has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

During cross-examination, Cooke’s lawyer, advocate Carla van Veenendaal, asked Cronje to look at the baby shower pictures and say whether she looked pregnant or not.

“In my unprofessional opinion, she does not look pregnant,” Cronje said.

However, Judge Lucy Mailula asked Van Veenendaal why she was asking someone without a medical background that question. The lawyer said it was because Cooke said she was pregnant at the time.

“We could make this simple. If you allege she was, give us medical evidence,” Judge Mailula said, to which Van Veenendaal said she did not have that proof.

Behrens’s partner was reduced to tears and the matter had to stand down for a few minutes not long after he started testifying.

Joseph Peterson and Behrens both knew Cooke.

Peterson said Cooke had walked past him and greeted him a few hours before Behrens died. He later saw her standing and chatting to Behrens.

Later, Peterson got a phone call saying he must rush to Cooke’s house.

He saw blood on the stoep and a body on the ground when he got there.

“A blanket was thrown on it. When I opened it, it was Valencia. She was dead,” Peterson said.

Peterson said he was preparing for the funeral the following day when Cooke’s mother Matilda told him to go and clean Behrens’s blood from her yard.

When he got there, he realised that the blood had already penetrated the cement and he told Matilda he would not be able to clean it. “She said I should use everything including Jik to clean that stain,” he recalled.

Peterson said he also found out that Behrens’s sandals were in the rubbish bin and told Matilda that he would like to have them.

“She said she won’t touch them and that I should take them myself from the dustbin.”

The trial continues.

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