Cape Town – The State has called for a sentence of 15 years imprisonment, with a portion suspended, in the case against a 52-year-old woman convicted of kidnapping Zephany Nurse almost two decades ago.
The Lavender Hill woman, who cannot be named to protect the identity she gave Zephany, was convicted of kidnapping, fraud and contravening the Children’s Act earlier this year.
She snatched three-day-old Zephany Nurse from her mother’s hospital bedside on April 30, 1997. The infant had been born via caesarean section to Morne and Celeste Nurse on April 28.
On Thursday, the Western Cape High Court heard final arguments in the sensational case which has made international headlines since the child’s true identity was revealed in February last year.
Defence lawyer Reaz Khan asked the court not to “approach punishment in the spirit of anger”. He said the public wanted vengeance and this was understandable as the accused did not plead guilty and had no remorse.
He acknowledged that the Nurse family had suffered trauma and continued to suffer, but said the court should take into account the accused’s personal circumstances and acknowledge that she had suffered trauma as both a child and adult.
He argued that mitigating factors included her age, her ill health, and the fact that she was a first-time offender.
Khan also told the court that while the State had argued that the accused had been maligning the victims, “that wasn’t the truth”.
“Morne Nurse said the accused indoctrinated Zephany, but there is no evidence of that.”
He further argued that the accused’s removal from Zephany had not led to the teenager being reunited with her biological parents.
And while the State had argued the accused was manipulative, Khan argued that “the court must take into account that she didn’t hide the child from the community. She enrolled her in school”.
But Western Cape High Court Judge John Hlophe dismissed this argument and said the crime had been premeditated: “She gave the child a different name and still hasn’t told her the truth.”
He said the accused should have pleaded guilty “rather than waste the court’s time”.
State prosecutor Evadne Kortje said the accused “has reaped the benefits of Zephany Nurse as being her own for 17 years”.
“She has come to court and said she spoilt her, looked after her, therefore I am special. That is not the case. She has been found guilty of serious offences.”
Kortje said the effects of the crime could never be eradicated and the biological parents had been deprived of their natural rights. “It cannot be condoned within society that women go into hospitals and help themselves to babies. This is what the accused did in this case”.
“One can’t sentence in anger, but this is a horrible set of unique facts.”
Kortje said the accused’s lack of remorse and empathy was “shocking to say the least”.
She said the accused had kept “a grave, illegal secret” and lied to the people she loved most.
She called for direct imprisonment to reflect the severity of the crime. “Fifteen years with some suspended would not be inappropriate. She totally erased the identity of Zephany Nurse in her actions.”
Judge Hlophe said the accused had missed “a golden opportunity” to return the child when her birthday was celebrated and broadcast on national television every year.
The Nurses' 17-year search for their missing daughter finally ended when their younger biological daughter started high school at the same school as Zephany.
Classmates remarked on the sisters’ striking resemblance and when the younger sister told her father, he contacted the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks). DNA tests revealed the matric girl was indeed Zephany Nurse, and the accused was arrested in February last year.
Both Celeste and Morne Nurse testified in aggravation of sentence that their lives had been severely impacted by the kidnapping, and that a relationship with their daughter was non-existent.