Family members embrace and thank State prosecutor Maria Marshall after Jerome Amerika was handed five life sentences. Picture: Catherine Rice/ANA

Cape Town - The public gallery in courtroom 1 at the Western Cape High Court erupted in cheers and applause on Tuesday as 23-year-old Jerome Amerika was handed five life terms.

Last month, he was found guilty of raping and murdering 10-year-old Shamonique Claasen in February this year.

He was also found guilty of raping his former girlfriend twice in April 2015. The woman, who cannot be named as she is a rape survivor, had obtained an interdict against Amerika in 2013 after he beat her. But she said he came back and she forgave him, as he promised he would change and she believed him.

She told the court they broke up about five times, but she always took him back.

Judge Robert Henney described his treatment of his former girlfriend as “inhumane and callous”.

The two became involved in a romantic relationship in 2012 out of which a child was born. After the birth of the child, the court heard that Amerika began phsyically abusing her.

In April last year, he threatened her with an axe. The next day he again threatened her with an axe and assaulted her with a stick. He then raped her twice.

Again, she got a protection order against him, but took him back in November and the two moved in together in January.

Henney said he agreed with State prosecutor Maria Marshall that “he was a serial abuser and little regard should be given to the feeble apologies he gave her when he abused her. He regarded her as his property”.

He said spousal rape was seldom reported to police, but this should not “normalise rape”.

“Rape committed in a relationship should be regarded as an aggravating factor.”

In February, just a month after moving in with his girlfriend, he murdered Shamonique Claasen.

Henney described Amerika as a coward for raping and murdering an innocent child. “The accused waited like a predator for the deceased to be on her own and then committed these abhorrent deeds.

“He smothered her and then strangled her so she couldn’t scream for help.”

He said Amerika’s actions had been barbaric and showed a “total disregard for the sanctity of human life”.

“It has almost become a daily occurrence in this country where young children are murdered after being sexually assaulted.”

He said the accused had not taken the court into his confidence, had tried to mislead the court, and had shown no remorse for any of his offences.

Henney said the only appropriate sentence would be “long term imprisonment to permanently remove him from society”.

For kidnapping his former girlfiend, Amerika received three years. He was sentenced to two life sentences for raping her.

For kidnapping Shamonique Claasen, he received three years. He was sentenced to two life sentences for also raping her twice.

And a fifth life sentence was handed down for the murder. The sentences were ordered to run concurrently. Amerika’s name was also added to the national sex offenders register.

Outside the Western Cape High Court, family members praised God, shouting “Dankie Here” (thank you God).

The victim’s mother, Magdaline Claasen, said she was happy with the sentence but added it would not bring her child back.

Her voice cracking with emotion, she said: “It should send a message to society that children should not be hurt in this way.”

African News Agency