Mortimer Saunders Photo: Noor Slamdien/African News Agency (ANA)

The Western Cape High Court heard that an expert’s opinion on the decomposing body of slain three-year-old Courtney Pieters could not be given by examining a photograph.

Pathologist Johan Dempers took the stand to be cross-examined by the defence counsel for Mortimer Saunders, accused of the rape and murder of Pieters.

Defence advocate Mornay Calitz had the State’s post-mortem findings examined privately by forensic expert Segaran Naidoo.

“The appearance of lesions was well in keeping with decomposition and saying this was most possibly bruising was stretching the possibility to probability. One can’t make a credible distinction between the two,” Calitz read from Naidoo’s expert advice.

Dempers said: “Naidoo should know better than to give an opinion on an external photograph. We spent hours at the scene and during autopsy, where we made careful observations.”

“I have at pains expressed to the court how sure or how not sure we were of these lesions,” Dempers said.

He said the lacerations on Courtney's genitals could have been caused by fingers, but agreed he could not conclusively say the injuries to the little girl's genitals were caused by a penis, and that the semen found could have been transferred by other means, including by hand.

Saunders said he had poisoned the child with ant poison and denied raping her, saying he “penetrated her corpse with three fingers”.