Supreme Court of Appeal rejects plea to convict pupil in murder
Pretoria - It was second time lucky for a former pupil at Rabonni Christian School in Brits – who was earlier acquitted for his alleged part in the brutal killing of the school’s secretary – when the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) turned down an appeal by the State for him to be convicted.
The two teenagers may not be identified because they were 16 when Hester Koster was shot twice in the head at point-blank range.
The former pupil, who the State wanted to face the might of the law, is only identified as P. He claimed that although he was with his friend at the time of the killing, he was forced to be there because he feared his friend who, according to him, bullied him.
His friend, identified only as C, has meanwhile served three years of his effective 25-year-jail sentence, which was meted out by the North Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, in May 2018.
C pleaded guilty to the killing and robbing of Koster. During his sentencing, the judge commented that “it was an evil deed and reflected the conduct of a hardened criminal”.
His trial was separated from that of P, who maintained his innocence and claimed that if it was not for his fear of C, he would never have been present when Koster was shot.
Another judge who presided over his case found that while P was there, he did not participate in the shooting. He acquitted P on all charges and said the State had not proved its case.
The prosecution turned to the SCA in a bid to appeal against the acquittal on questions of law, as it could not appeal on the acquittal based on the facts of the case. According to the prosecution, the trial judges wrongly applied the law in coming to its findings on the facts.
On Friday, although five judges from the SCA did frown on some aspects of the trial court’s findings, they said these were findings on the facts and not law. Thus, their hands were tied in overturning the acquittal.
Justice H Saldulker, who wrote the judgment, commented that the State had not brought a frivolous or vexatious application. “What must be borne in mind is that an innocent woman lost her life in very tragic and violent circumstances. Her murder was carried out with complete disregard for human life. It was a callous and senseless killing,” he said.
The court heard that the teenagers were in the same class in Grade 9. They were friends, although P said he had no choice but to be friends with C to stop the latter from bullying him.
The two of them spent a lot of time together at school, sharing food and using the same transport to and from school, a taxi which was owned by C’s parents.
On November 22, 2016, after writing exams, they got masking tape from the caretaker and waited for Koster to give them a lift into town. C also showed P a firearm he had stolen from his father, a police officer.
Koster, who was said to adore the children, gave them a lift. As they were driving C pointed the firearm at her and ordered her to drive to an industrial area.
There her hands were tied by P, but she managed to break the tape. C then shot her twice in the head and the two left her at the side of the road to die after C robbed her of her car.
P claimed he knew nothing of his friend’s plans to rob Koster of her car. He believed the masking tape C wanted was to repair his schoolbooks and the gun was to protect them as they were planning on going gambling. Besides, he said, he was terrified of his bullying friend.
The trial court found that he could not be blamed for what happened.
The SCA said undoubtedly there were aspects of the trial court’s judgment that were troubling, but these were issues of fact and not law.