A 14-year-old girl wept inconsolably on Thursday as her mother stroked her hair and hugged her after her conviction for the murder of Pietermaritzburg businesswoman Radha Govender, 59, and the theft of her jewellery and other belongings.
The girl - the youngest female to be tried for murder in South Africa - will probably know her fate by Christmas. The case was adjourned until December 13 for the start of sentencing procedures, when both the state and defence will lead expert testimony relating to the sentence she should get.
Judge Kevin Swain refused an application by state advocate Sandesh Sankar to commit the teenager to prison pending sentencing, saying it was not certain at this stage what type of sentence she would face.
"She is very young... I would not like her to spend two months in custody unnecessarily," he said.
He acceded to a request by defence advocate Kobus Booyens to remand the girl in the care of her mother.
Sankar told the judge the prosecution would ask that the girl be sent to jail.
State advocate Marlani Govender confirmed later that the teenager was the youngest female to go on trial for murder. Previously, the youngest was Marlene Lehnberg, the so-called "scissors" murderess, who went on trial aged 19, in 1976.
Radha Govender was killed while lying in a drugged sleep in her home in Bombay Road, Northdale, on the night of September 14, 2002.
The court accepted evidence that she was strangled and stabbed by Sipho Hadebe and Vusimusi Tshabalala. The girl - then only 12 - approached them in the street and asked them to kill Govender. In return, she gave them jewellery and goods from Govender's house.
Both killers are serving jail sentences of 25 years. They testified for the state against the girl.
Swain rejected the teenager's evidence that she acted under the influence of a family acquaintance, Dash Govender, a former police officer who worked as a bouncer at Radha Govender's Manhattan nightclub and who earns a living by gambling.
Dash Govender, who was given permission to sit in court during the judgment, said later it was "always inevitable" that he would be exonerated. He said the judgment had reaffirmed his belief in the judicial system. "I can continue with my life now, knowing that the truth has been established and that I am vindicated."
He added that if there was a chance of pursuing a civil suit against the teenager he would "do it in a heartbeat".
Govender said his business interests and reputation had suffered as a result of the allegations against him.
Swain found that the teenager had lied both to the court and her psychologist, Clive Willows, who had testified on her behalf, about Dash's alleged involvement.
He and his two assessors were satisfied that the girl had appreciated the wrongfulness of her actions and had been able to act in accordance with such appreciation.
The judge found that she had planned and executed Govender's murder herself, and had spun an "elaborate web of lies and deceit" to evade the consequences.
He also said the murder had been planned in advance.
She had put sleeping pills into Govender's tea to ensure that she did not resist the attack, had carried out her plan and had created an alibi for herself. She had also warned her small brother not to tell anyone.
The teenager sat with downcast eyes through the judgment, clasping her mother's hand. When the court adjourned she burst into tears.