Cape Town - The man who was kidnapped with Hannah Cornelius on the day she was raped and murdered has recounted in emotional testimony how they were attacked in her car.
Cheslin Marsh, 22, a theology student and friend of Cornelius, told the Western Cape High Court that the two of them were chatting in her Volkswagen Golf, parked in Jan Cilliers Street, Stellenbosch, when two men armed with a knife and screwdriver attacked them on May 27 last year.
While Marsh escaped from their attackers and suffered severe head injuries and a broken arm, Cornelius was killed, and her body was found on the side of Knorhoek Road, close to a wine farm in Stellenbosch.
Vernon Witbooi, Geraldo Parsons, Eben van Niekerk and Nashwill Julius are on trial for her murder.
Reliving that fateful day, Marsh said he was about to leave Cornelius’s car, just after midnight, when he saw a hand with a screwdriver in it point to Cornelius’s chest. He said the window on the driver’s side was half-open.
“I closed my door and grabbed the hand with a screwdriver, then someone opened the door on my side, the front passenger’s door. The person had a knife and said to me ‘sit still or you die’. The knife was held to my back,” he said.
Marsh said the man with the knife forced his way into the front passenger’s seat, and ordered him to move to a back seat. Cornelius was forced to sit in between the front seats, with the two armed men on either side of her.
Marsh said two other men entered the car and sat on either side of him. The one seated to his right took his cellphone and wallet. “He took the money out, R40 to R60, and gave the wallet back to me,” he said.
The men searched for the car keys and found them. “Hannah asked what they were going to do. The driver replied, ‘We want to go home and then we will give you back your car.’”
During a commotion one of the four attackers disappeared, after which Marsh said he was ordered into the boot of the car. “The car drove off. Being in that boot was emotional, I felt helpless, it broke my spirit,” Marsh said while sobbing.
The car drove with him in the boot for a “long time” before it came to a halt. He recalled hearing the men talk about “a merchant”. One of the men opened the boot and showed him to another, unknown man. They stripped him of his waistcoat, and because he was shivering his wallet fell from him. They also robbed him of his diamond earrings. Marsh said the car drove off again and stopped a number of times before they arrived at a place where the men and Cornelius got out of the vehicle. He was left in boot for a while.
He recalled hearing Cornelius ask the men where they were being taken. “Her voice was very soft; I could tell that she was afraid,” Marsh said while crying. He was too emotional to continue with his testimony and will be in the witness stand again today.
Earlier, the court accepted a confession by Witbooi in which he implicates the other accused in the attack, and indicates Parsons was the mastermind behind the attack and drove the car.
In the confession, Witbooi said Parsons came up with the idea to rape Cornelius. Van Niekerk and another man also raped her, but Witbooi said he was “by the car smoking” while she was raped.