Mortimer Saunders has been sentenced to life terms for the rape and premeditated murder of three-year-old Courtney Pieters. Picture: Armand Hough / African News Agency (ANA)
Cape Town - Convicted killer Mortimer Saunders has been handed two life sentences for the rape and premeditated murder of three-year-old Courtney Pieters in Western Cape High Court.

In November, Saunders was found guilty of the rape and murder of Courtney, who went missing from her home in Elsies River, on May 14 last year.

Saunders, who was a lodger in the Pieters' home,  was arrested after Courtney's body was found on a rubbish heap in Epping Industria. She had been missing for nine days. He had participated in the search for her and supported her family during vigils held to pray for the child's safe return.

In May, Saunders admitted in the Western Cape High Court to murdering Courtney.

In a statement, Saunders said that he killed the toddler by feeding her ant poison to drink because of issues between himself and Courtney's mother.  He said it was not his intention to kill Courtney and that he just wanted to make her ill. 

It remains unclear if the rape took place pre or post-mortem.

Western Cape High Court Judge Babalwa Mantame handed down the sentence in a packed courtroom. Saunders dressed in a grey and green jacket appeared calm with his eyes fixed to the court.

In court Judge Mantame said Courtney's murder was an act of brutality and callousness. 

“The nature, brutality and callousness of the crime shows the accused has no regard for other people," she said. 

In mitigation of sentencing, a week ago, probation officer, Jeremy Kessie, recommended Saunders get an extended period of direct imprisonment.

“In public the reoffending risk is not that high but when it comes to people who are weak and vulnerable to people like the deceased the risk is high,” he said.

Kessie said Saunders had a paranoia of poison and people wanting to poison him.

He told his mother he suspected Pieters poisoned his food, he also suspected his aunt and his girlfriend of trying to poison him.

“There is a trend of him suspecting people of poisoning him,” said Kessie.

“He doesn’t accept full responsibility. He said there was no intent to administer poison to a little girl but the accused should’ve foreseen her death. There was also an opportunity to help her when she cried for help but he didn’t. He went further by muffling her mouth and choking her,” said Kessie. 

When reading out her judgment last month, Judge Mantame described Saunders’ crimes as “lewd and selfish” and the “most vicious, vile, ruthless and evil murder the court has ever seen”.

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