Durban - A policeman convicted of the murder of his wife - he had stabbed her 14 times - has seven days to report to prison after he lost his appeal in the Pietermaritzburg High Court.
Morné Croeser, 35, a former dog handler with the Mountain Rise dog unit, appealed against his conviction and 23-year sentence before Judge Johan Ploos van Amstel.
He was on bail pending the outcome of his appeal.
After the reserved judgment handed down on Tuesday, Croeser has a week to get his affairs in order and hand himself to prison authorities to begin serving his sentence.
In his judgment, Van Amstel reduced Croeser’s sentence from 23 years to 18 years, saying Croeser had not led a life of crime. On the contrary, he was a dedicated policeman with an excellent record, he said.
The judge said Croeser also had two young daughters who had lost their mother, and while a robust sentence was required, the sentence “should not crush a person”.
The sooner Croeser was reunited with his children, the better for all parties concerned, he said.
Croeser, 35, was found guilty of the brutal murder of his wife Erika, 34, at their home in the Mzinsi Game Reserve in Albert Falls on August 28, 2010.
The court found that he had staged a robbery at his home and stabbed himself in the stomach to try to mislead police. The knife, which missed all major organs and nerves, was still embedded in his abdomen when paramedics arrived.
Erika was stabbed 14 times in the face and neck.
The policeman had pleaded not guilty, claiming he and Erika were attacked by an intruder after they returned home from a bar early that morning.
Croeser argued in his appeal that, because there were no witnesses to the murder, the case against him was based on circumstantial evidence.
However, Van Amstel referred to the evidence of crime scene experts who testified that Erika was not attacked immediately because she entered the house, and had time to place her handbag on a table. There were no signs of struggle in the house and no signs of an intruder.
There was also no forced entry and no evidence that anyone had tried to steal anything.
The court found that there were also no bloody footprints, which crime scene experts said one would have expected, considering the brutal nature of the attack and the amount of blood on the floor.
Referring to Croeser’s wound, the judge said there was no corresponding hole in either his jacket or shirt, which led to the conclusion that his abdomen was exposed when he was stabbed.
Croeser was not able to explain how this happened.
Medical evidence led at the trial was that Croeser’s injury was not inflicted in a rushed, attacking manner, but rather in a controlled manner. The entry wound was described as a “neat cut”.
The judge had said then that the obvious question to be asked was why Croeser killed his wife.
Evidence was given by Erika’s brother that the couple had a stormy relationship and that Croeser had had an affair. Erika had threatened to divorce him and had applied for a protection order against her husband after he threatened to kill anyone who tried take his children away from him.
Van Amstel also said he did not think it was a coincidence that Erika was killed on a night when her children were staying with Croeser’s parents.
“In the light of all these circumstances, I am not persuaded that the trial court was wrong in rejecting Croeser’s version that an intruder was responsible for the attack as false beyond a reasonable doubt. The inescapable conclusion to me seems that it was Croeser who killed his wife,” the judge said.
“The appeal against the conviction can therefore not succeed.”
Erika’s twin brother, Francois Schafer, told the Daily News on Tuesday that the family was relieved Croeser would pay for his crime.
“We are satisfied with the outcome. We wanted justice for Erika and for her children. Right now the children’s well-being and getting them through this period in their lives is of utmost importance,” he said.
It is unclear at this stage who the children will live with when Croeser is in prison.