The High Court in Cape Town heard that convicted murderer Mortimer Saunders was possibly facing two life terms. Picture: Armand Hough / African News Agency (ANA)

Cape Town - Social development department probation officer Jeremy Kessie on Tuesday told the High Court in Cape Town that he was aware that convicted murderer Mortimer Saunders was possibly facing two life terms of direct imprisonment for killing and raping three-year-old Courtney Pieters in May last year.

Kessie was one of the State witnesses who presented a sentencing report in court during Saunders' sentencing proceedings.

Asked by State prosecutor Esmeralda Cecil whether he was aware that the minimum sentence of murder and rape of children under the ages of 16 was two separate life terms, Kassie said: “Yes I am aware.”

Saunders was found guilty of the rape and premeditated murder of Courtney in November. He was arrested shortly after Pieters’ decomposing body was found in Epping Industria in May 2017, nine days after she was reported missing.

In his report, Kassie said that he was concerned about Saunders’ high risk of harm to the public.

“Yes, the accused constitutes a high risk to the public, more to the weak and vulnerable. Specifically to the children. The risk of harm to the public is high,” said Kassie.

Cecil asked Kassie whether, according to his view, the murder was premeditated and whether the accused showed any signs of remorse or of accepting responsibility, to which Kassie told the court that the accused was not accepting full responsibility for his actions. 

"I think the accused, in my view, has taken responsibility for his actions, but not fully. We're looking at the fact that he administered poison to a child, meaning that there are high chances that the child can die," he said, adding that Saunders had a chance to help the child when he noticed that the child needed help as he had previously claimed that he did not want to kill the child but only wanted to get her sick.

"He had the opportunity to help the child but he still choked the child to death. Intention could have an element of planning as well," he said. "When you talk of intention, there is an element of planning but although we cannot measure how much planning."

Presenting mitigation argument, Saunders Legal Aid defence attorney, Morné Calitz, disputed the statement that his client did not take full responsibility, handing before the court an apology letter written by Saunders begging for forgiveness from both Courtney's family and his own family, as well as the residents of Elsiesriver. 

"The accused wrote a letter of apology to the family and admitted that he was responsible for the child's death. The accused admitted that he had caused harm to the child's family and the residents and he took full responsibility for what he had done. The accused is taking responsibility for his actions as a person who could still be rehabilitated," said Calitz, further stating that the accused was a first offender and had not been involved in any criminal activities until the age of 41, and that he has been in custody since May last year.

He said that the court may hand down lengthy direct imprisonment to the accused, but that it should not be life imprisonment, reiterating that his client should be given a chance to rehabilitate himself.

State prosecutor, Cecil, however, disputed the submissions, stating that the aggravating factors totally outweighed the mitigation factors in the case.

The matter was adjourned until Tuesday 11 December for sentencing. 

African News Agency (ANA)