Kimberley - The triple murder trial of the Steenkamp family from Griquatown will proceed in the Northern High Court on October 21 after an amount of R500 000 of an inheritance was released to enable the 17-year-old accused to pay his legal fees.
Up until May, the bill for an instructing attorney and two defence advocates have run into the region of R1.2 million plus R130 000 for the use of forensic, ballistic and other experts.
Deon, 44, his wife Christel, 43, and their daughter, Marthella Steenkamp, 14, died as a result of multiple gunshot wounds when they were shot on their farm Naauwhoek on Good Friday last year.
The R500 000 was bequeathed to the accused through the last will and testament of Don Steenkamp, 80 (Deon’s father), who took on the responsibility of funding the boy’s legal fees prior to his death on August 1.
He had indicated that he did not want an “innocent boy to sit in jail”.
Don Steenkamp was also prepared to sell farms belonging to the family in order to cover the legal expenses.
The assets in the Edelweiss and Naawuhoek trusts include farms and livestock valued at R23 million.
The boy’s guardian, Bennie Heckroodt, on Friday made an urgent High Court application to release funds from the estates of Don Steenkamp as well as that of his son Deon and his daughter-in-law, Christel Steenkamp, to pay for future legal costs.
Don’s widow, Bettie Steenkamp, opposed the application as she had indicated that Deon had already received his share of his inheritance and that it would prejudice her two daughters, Elbeth Vermaak and Marianne Smith.
Vermaak and Smith were appointed as the new executors of the two trusts.
Northern Cape High Court Judge Johann Olivier stated that the money (R500 000) that would be paid out once the accused turned 25, should instead be deposited into a separate bank account in Heckroodt’s name.
Heckroodt will have to account to the Master of the High Court how these funds are being spent on the trial.
Upon conclusion of the criminal trial, any remaining funds will be paid over to the accused when he is 25 years old.
Judge Olivier, however, refused to allow any funds from the estates of Don, Deon and Christel Steenkamp to be used to pay for the accused’s legal fees as he said there was a danger of depleting these funds.
He also realised that R500 000 would not sufficiently cover the expenses of the trial, that was set down for October, November and December.
Olivier suggested that the accused make use of one advocate or request a reduced fee from his legal representatives.
“I contacted Legal Aid South Africa and they indicated that they could continue using the same legal team through a co-operative agreement if they accept a different fee structure. I trust that either one or both advocates will agree to assist the boy.”
The accused has not applied for legal aid assistance from the State yet. Advocate Corrie Ploos van Amstel SC, appearing on behalf of Heckroodt, pointed out that a fixed amount was never specified in respect of the legal costs.
“It is common knowledge that the case will be of a lengthy duration. During the start of the trial, which took six weeks, only 10 of the 91 witnesses testified. There is no certainty as to when it will be concluded.”
He stated that Don Steenkamp’s commitment not to leave the boy in the lurch and to cover his legal requirements until the outcome of the case, automatically expired when he died.
Legal representative for Bettie Steenkamp, Advocate Majel Wessles, SC, pointed out that it was unreasonable to expect the respective estates to provide a blank cheque to sponsor the accused, as the case could continue indefinitely.
State Advocate Hannes Cloete said the prosecution would study the judgment and prepare for the case that would resume on October 21.
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