As his relatives sobbed bitterly at the back of court nine, Cecil Thomas was spared a life sentence for the murder of businessman and publisher Robin McGregor.
Instead, Judge Nathan Erasmus on Monday sentenced the 33-year-old to an effective 30 years’ imprisonment.
Handcuffed and shackled for the last time in the Western Cape High Court, Thomas was sentenced to 25 years for McGregor’s murder and a further 15 years for robbery - 10 years to run concurrently. Should he serve the full sentence, he will only be released well after his 60th birthday.
McGregor, who had previously been described by Judge Erasmus as an “activist”, was murdered in 2008 in his Tulbagh home. His silver Mercedes-Benz and two safes were stolen.
“My first reaction was life imprisonment,” said Judge Erasmus on Monday, addressing Thomas sternly.
“Mr McGregor was killed in a brutal manner. He was stabbed with a knife multiple times and dragged across the floor in his corridor. The question is: ‘What kind of man does that?’ Especially with your background?”
Judge Erasmus was referring to the fact that Thomas seemed to come from a “good home” and had also been able to study further and get a post-high school certificate.
Judge Erasmus said the incident had clearly shaken both the Tulbagh community and the Saron community, where Thomas was from.
“It was not just because it was McGregor (who was killed), but because of the type of murder that was committed,” he said, referring to the brutality of the crime.
“You are too young to understand where we come from as a society.
“We are trying to build a nation and one of the biggest problems in terms of our democracy is crime. It undermines what we stand for,” said Judge Erasmus.
However, the judge was still of the view that Thomas could “change his life” and be rehabilitated.
“A life sentence is the harshest sentence and should be handed out when the court is convinced that that person should not be a part of society. I am not going to sentence you to life imprisonment,” he said.
He felt that the sentence was “long enough” to ensure that even if Thomas did not “change”, he would be very old by the time he was released.
“It means that you are going to get a chance today. A chance to change your life,” said Judge Erasmus.
“The incident seems entirely out of character. That’s why I wonder whether I heard the whole story,” he said, referring to Thomas’s version of events that his involvement was because he was put under duress by members of the 28s gang.
Thomas has maintained his innocence but is yet to appeal the conviction.
Judge Erasmus said Thomas was also “relatively young” and had already served two years in jail.
But it was necessary to underline the seriousness of the crime with the sentence, he said.
Meanwhile, McGregor’s daughter, Elizabeth, said that nothing could bring her father back.
“But I feel that the justice system has been good to us and we feel lucky,” she said, before bursting into tears.
“I’m glad that it’s over.”
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