Sentencing proceedings of the three men found guilty for the murder of Hannah Cornelius and the attempted murder of her friend, Cheslin Marsh, was postponed until Monday in the Western Cape High Court. Photo: Armand Hough / African News Agency (ANA)

Cape Town – Hannah Cornelius's aunt, Professor Eleanor Cornelius, said in the Western Cape High Court on Thursday that the three men convicted of her 21-year old niece's rape and murder should never go free. 

She was testifying in aggravation of sentence. The emotional aunt told the court that in other countries "the convicted killers would get the death penalty, but in South Africa they would get parole within 25 years", the SABC reported. 

She wanted them to spend the remainder of their lives behind bars, saying "no real man would take from a woman what she wouldn't give freely".

Hannah was raped and killed in May last year near Stellenbosch and the professor said the family had lost her and her mother Anna within 10 months, devastating the family. 

Willem Cornelius believes his family died with his daughter and was buried when his wife "walked into the ocean a short time later and didn’t come back", the former magistrate testified, News24 reported.

"Me and my son are not a family – we are the survivors who live in the ruins of what once was," Willem said.

Hannah was last seen alive with her friend, Cheslin Marsh, hours earlier, when Eben van Niekerk, Geraldo Parsons, Vernon Witbooi and Nashville Julius accosted the two students in her car in Stellenbosch.

Her VW Citi Golf was used in two armed robberies before Witbooi and Parsons were apprehended after a high-speed chase.

Van Niekerk, Parsons and Witbooi were convicted on 10 charges, ranging from murder to rape. Julius was found guilty of robbery and kidnapping, as he had fled before his accomplices drove off with the students that night.

Before speaking of his daughter, Willem apologised that he had not been at proceedings before, explaining that the investigating officer had taken him through the docket before the trial and he "did not feel up to going through the evidence again".

He spoke proudly of his only daughter, saying: "I suspect all parents believe their children are exceptional, and we were no different. Almost from birth, Hannah proved to be different from what we believed was the norm. 

After the birth of her autistic brother, Hannah became in a sense "part of management, with a share of duties and a say in decisions".

She never gave her parents any "drama and difficulties" and excelled in school, the proud father said.

His daughter was diligent, almost always cheerful and had a sense of fairness and compassion he envied, he reminisced.

"I recall an incident in her early teens when she gravely informed us that she did not want to attend our church any more, as it did apparently not make provision for her Muslim friends to go to heaven," Willem said.

She declined a birthday party for her 16th birthday because she "could not in good conscience spend money on herself while people around her were living in poverty".

"When she enrolled at the University of Stellenbosch, Hannah informed us – somewhat to our dismay – that she had no interest in pursuing a career in law, but that she wanted to do something that would actually help people," he said.

She wanted to major in languages, literature and philosophy and pursue post-graduate studies in France.

"The theme of helping people was a constant in her life and I understand this may have led indirectly to the reason why we are here today… A remarkable child on the cusp of growing into a remarkable young woman."

The State asked for the maximum sentence to be imposed on the three men found guilty of the murder and rape.

State prosecutor Lenro Badenhorst reminded the court that despite the four accused blaming the intake of drugs for their actions that night, many of their other actions were very calculated and “goal-directed”, the Weekend Argus reported.

“Drugs did not impair their cognitive ability,” said Badenhorst.

He also reminded the court that South Africa can ill afford a situation where “we have armed gangs walking around at night and kidnapping, robbing, raping and murdering innocent people”.

Sentencing proceedings were postponed until Monday 2pm.