Pretoria - The biological mother of Poppie van der Merwe, Louisa Koekemoer and her husband Kobus Koekemoer will only know their fate on February 28, next year, after they requested that their sentencing is postponed as each of them first wanted to obtain a presentencing report.
The pair were on Wednesday convicted of the brutal murder of the three-year-old toddler. They were also convicted of child abuse in relation to Poppie’s then five-year-old brother, whose body was also riddled with bruises for months leading to her death. Following his mother’s arrest, he was removed and placed in a place of safety.
Gauteng High Court, Pretoria Judge Bert Bam, in referring to the murder, convicted the pair on the doctrine of common purpose. He said it did not matter who had dealt the final blow which caused Poppie’s death, both were equally guilty.
Little Poppie died on October 25, last year from blunt force trauma to the head. By the time Kobus ran with her in his arms into the Brits Hospital, she had already been dead for some time.
The pair turned on each other during the trial, blaming the other for the fatal blow to the head. Kobus ’version was that Louisa had, in a fit of rage, flung the child out of the bedroom door that morning.
He said his wife was livid because Poppie had soiled her bed and she threw the frail child out of the door. According to him Poppie’s head struck the wall.
Louisa’s version was that her husband had hit the child’s head against the kitchen cupboard the previous night, as he had done before. He then dealt the child’s lifeless body a final kick the next day.
But Judge Bam made it clear: It did not matter who did what. The fact remained that either one witnessed the other injuring the little blond girl and did nothing to prevent the other from hurting her.
“They thus had a common purpose to commit a crime,” he said.
“Both were present when the final blow was inflicted and each of the two knew what was going on.”
He also took into account that Poppie had been severely abused over a period of at least eight months. He said the nature of the injuries inflicted over this time on the child and the fact that each accused exactly knew what the other was doing to the child, left the court in no doubt that they knew she could possibly die at the end.
The judge also found that there was no doubt that this little girl had suffered tremendously over a long period. Bruises were noted on her body by the authorities in Orania, where the family lived until shortly before Poppies’ death when they had moved to Brits.
They fled as things became too much for them in Orania as the authorities kept an eye on them there. But the judge also said it was clear that the authorities - from the Church Minister in Orania, the doctor and nurse who examined Poppie, social services and up to her teachers, failed both her and her brother.
They saw the multiple injuries on the children over the months, yet they did nothing. The one reported it to the other in the hope that they would do something. Ironically the police only became involved when the doctor who stood with Poppies’ lifeless body in his arm in the Brits hospital, notified them.
By that time Poppie had bruises stretching from her head to toes. Her once blond curls, were cropped against her head and she was emaciated.
The judge was so outraged by the failure of anyone in Orania acting against the clear child abuse, that he remarked it can be argued that they were accessories.
One of the incidents overlooked by them, was when Poppie had suffered a broken leg. Her mother only took her to the doctor two days later. By that time the child reeled in pain. Louisa’s excuse for not giving the child pain medication was that she did not have money to buy any.
She at first explained the child broke her leg after falling over a puppy. She later explained the child fell down some stairs. The court did not believe this.
In another incident, she explained that a huge on Poppies’ forehead was the result that she had bumped her head against the canopy of the bakkie. Poppie said her mother hit her with her fist. Apart from making a note of the injury, the doctor did nothing.
Louisa cried bitterly in court during her evidence, especially as she was at a loss for words as to why she did not protect her children against her husband, whom she had described as brutal.
The judge yesterday remarked that he was not for one minute swayed by her tears.
Judge Bam said in terms of our law adults had a legal obligation to protect children. Not doing this, was a criminal offence.