Cape Town – There was jubilation at the Western Cape High Court when Mortimer Saunders was found guilty of the premeditated rape and killing of 3-year-old Courtney Pieters.
Hours later, in the same court, three men were convicted of the rape and murder of Hannah Cornelius, a Stellenbosch University student kidnapped with friend Cheslin Marsh on May 27 last year.
And triple-axe murderer Henri van Breda was refused leave to appeal.
NPA spokesperson Eric Ntabazalila said: “It is sad that we welcome a successful conviction on a rape and murder of a child and young woman in one day.
“It shows the enormity of the task facing us as a society, but it also shows the resolve that we have as the NPA to fight this scourge of crimes against women and children.”
In Courtney’s case, Judge Babalwa Mantame said the State had proven beyond reasonable doubt that Saunders had premeditated the child’s murder before raping her. Courtney went missing from her Pluto Street home on May 4 last year before she was found on a rubbish heap nine days later following a search by residents.
Her mother, Juanita, could not be interviewed as she left the court sobbing shortly after the judgment.
Mantame described the crimes Saunders committed as “lewd and selfish” and the “most vicious, vile, ruthless and evil murder the court has ever seen”.
She rejected Saunders’ version of events, saying he had intentionally misled the investigating officers in order to cover his tracks.
She said his actions “pointed to the fact that he had thought about the crime and did not want to be convicted”.
“The crime did not unfold as he had planned.
“The accused intended to kill the deceased. It did not happen on the spur of the moment (Saunders) waited for the opportune time when there was no adult supervision at home.
“He threatened the deceased with violence when he choked and hit her,” she said.
Mantame also rejected the claim that Saunders just wanted to make the child ill when he forced her to drink ant poison.
“He had all the time to seek medical help and save the life of the deceased,” she said.
Mantame also refuted the defence’s only expert witness, Segeran Naidoo, and slammed the forensic pathologist’s opinion, saying he had “downplayed Courtney’s injuries” to solely that of decomposition.
Mantame said the State’s expert witness, Johan Dempers, “assisted the court tremendously and (his evidence) in its entirety was logical” after he conducted further tests which did not prejudice either party.
“Rape is the most shameful and disempowering act, (and perpetrating this) on babies and children deprives them of being children,” she said.
Those in court applauded and let out loud sighs of relief as Vernon Witbooi, Geraldo Parsons and Eben van Niekerk were convicted of the rape, murder, robbery, kidnapping of Cornelius.
They were also convicted of the attempted murder of Marsh, who was robbed and kidnapped.
Fourth accused Nashville Julius, who was charged with robbery and kidnapping, was also found guilty.
Judge Rosheni Allie said she was convinced the State had proved beyond reasonable doubt that the four carried out their actions with direct intent.
“I am of the view that the accused’s failure to present countervailing testimony to that of the State strengthened the state’s case,” Allie said.
Saunders case was postponed to December 4 for pre-sentencing proceedings.
Sentencing procedures in Cornelius’s case start today.
Meanwhile, lawyers representing convicted Van Breda confirmed to the Cape Times that the Supreme Court of Appeal turned down their client’s application to appeal his three life terms, 15 years and further 12-month sentence by Western Cape High Court Judge Siraj Desai.
Desai had also denied Van Breda’s application for leave to appeal.
Van Breda, 23, sought to have his sentence reviewed.
He was convicted in May for the murder of his mother Teresa, 55, father Martin, 54, and brother Rudi, 22, as well as the attempted murder of his sister Marli, who was 16 at the time.
He still maintains a balaclava-clad intruder broke into their luxury De Zalze estate home and killed his family.