Murder accused Mortimer Saunders, 40, at his first court appearance. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/ANA Pictures
Cape Town – The man accused of the rape and murder of three-year-old Courtney Pieters from Elsies River made his first appearance in the Goodwood District Court on Wednesday, and the Elsies River community was there baying for his blood.

They would have to wait their turn, though, as the suspect had apparently been assaulted by fellow awaiting trial prisoners in the court holding cells.

Attorney Colin Lekay, fearing for his client’s safety, requested that Mortimer Saunders be transferred to the hospital section of Goodwood Prison.

Magistrate Paul Visagie said the request would be considered at the accused’s next appearance.

Saunders, 40, was charged with the murder of his landlord’s child, and two counts of rape, indicating that it was both vaginal and anal.

When Saunders made his way into the packed courtrooom, he looked confused.

His faded red shirt was wrinkled and he barely looked up.

About 600 people had marched and taken taxis to court on Wednesday morning.

The protesters lined both sides of the street, holding up banners of placards that read “No bail for child killers” and “Your child is my child”.

They chanted “Justice for Courtney” and sang “She’s just a child”.

Magistrate Visagie was lenient, allowing cameras into the courtroom and the already packed gallery to be swarmed with standing people.

Police and court orderlies lined the courtroom, for the suspect’s protection more than anything else.

Attorney Lekay said the arrest and accusation had put his client’s job – at call centre WNS in the city centre – in jeopardy.

Saunders requested to be allowed to return to work, and to be placed in the Hospital section of Goodwood Prison as he feared for his life.

It was determined that the accused earned above the maximum required for free legal aid representation.

Lekay said the accused would appeal his failure to pass the legal aid means test, and the court would know by the time the accused made his second appearance if his appeal was successful or not.

If the accused lost his job, he would be without income and would only then qualify for legal aid, Lekay said.

The toddler’s parents Juanita Pieters and Aaron Fourie sat in court frozen, holding onto each other for support during the brief court appearance.

They were joined by family and neighbours, as well as family spokesperson, Roegshanda Pascoe, seated in the front rows.

After court adjourned, a traumatised Juanita would only say: “I do not want to talk anymore. We are tired and just want this to be over,” before rushing out.

Saunders was arrested on May 15 after Courtney’s body was found dumped on a field in Epping Industria on May 13.

The child from Salberau had been missing for nine days, sparking a massive community search that involved more than 100 volunteers and police.

Magistrate Visagie remanded the case to 24 May.