Durban - The sentence meted out to a South Coast man who killed his wife and kept her body in a chest freezer for almost a month, has been described as a judicial failure in addressing femicide in the country.
The family of 30-year-old Brazilian woman, Valeria de Almeida Franco, were shocked to hear that Franco’s husband, South African Johan Oswald Schmid - was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment, in the Port Shepstone Regional Court in November.
Franco’s family lawyer, Emile Myburgh, said they were devastated when they heard of Schmid’s sentencing and hoped the National Prosecuting Authority would appeal against it.
“This is one of those cases where something so incredibly heinous happened. But, because it wasn’t a high-profile case - there were no media present or public outrage - this man got a slap on the wrist.
“This sentence had no strong message that crime doesn’t pay,” Myburgh said.
Franco was murdered on February 9 last year at the couple’s Ostend Drive flat in Uvongo where they lived with their 4-year-old son. Schmid, 47, confessed to strangling her before he wrapped her body in plastic and concealed it in their bedroom cupboard for four days. After realising the body was decomposing, Schmid bought a chest freezer at a Shelly Beach store and placed her body inside the freezer where it was kept for almost a month.
In that time, he travelled to Joburg to leave his son in the care of his sister, and returned to KwaZulu-Natal, where he confessed to the murder.
He was arrested on February 26 last year and told the court that he had been abused by his wife.
“Schmid’s defence rested on the allegation that he was a battered husband who retaliated after years of abuse at the hands of his wife. The court felt that he suffered a lot of abuse over the years and frankly, the NPA had nothing to counter his argument so it decided not to appeal,” Myburgh said last week.
According to a community newspaper, South Coast Herald, advocate Louis Barnard, who represented Schmid, told regional magistrate Johann Bester that Schmid admitted having strangled his wife during a brutal struggle after she tried to stab him with a steak knife.
The prosecution accepted that Schmid, after assessment, had presented with “reduced criminal capacity” at the time of the killing, and as a result, he was found guilty of murder that was not premeditated or planned.
“This, for me, simply means that the next man who kills his wife can easily claim to have been abused and then get off easily,” Myburgh said.
The director of the KZN Network on Violence against Women, Cookie Edwards, said the justice system had failed Franco and her family and called on the judiciary and NPA to answer to President Cyril Ramaphosa on the lenient sentencing. She said she was shocked at Schmid’s sentencing.
“The president just delivered a message to Parliament saying that the country was in a state of emergency and this was no longer femicide but rather genocide against our women and children.
“We are in the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children Campaign, and what sort of message is this sending?” she asked.
The NPA had not responded to questions by the time of publication.