From left are Vernon Witbooi, Geraldo Parsons, Eben van Niekerk and Nashville Julius. The trial of the men relates to the kidnapping and rape of Hannah Cornelius. Picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency (ANA)

Cape Town - The Western Cape High court on Tuesday heard from accused number three, Eben van Niekerk, in the Hannah Cornelius murder trial.

Van Niekerk tried to convince the court of his innocence, even going so far as to say that he did not know why he was arrested.

Van Niekerk, Vernon Witbooi, Jeraldo Parsons and Nashville Julies are facing murder, attempted murder, rape, robbery and kidnapping charges in the Western Cape High Court.

It is the State’s case that the four accused kidnapped Stellenbosch student Cornelius and her friend Cheslin Marsh from his Naveau student hostel in Stellenbosch on the night of May 26, 2017.

Cornelius’ body was found the next morning off a gravel road in Stellenbosch. 

Van Niekerk is 28 years old and only completed Grade 5.

He told the court on Tuesday on the day he was arrested he did not know the reason for his arrest. 

He testified that on May 30, 2017, police took him to Victoria Hospital in Wynberg for DNA tests and that he only found out the following day what charges he faced.

Tuesday’s testimony is in stark contrast to court records which showed that he was informed of the charges against him and the other three accused on May 30, 2017.

Much of Tuesday’s proceedings focused around the admissibility of a letter of apology that Van Niekerk wrote to the family of Cornelius.

“Adams asked me to write the letter to say that I was sorry. I did it to make it easier for me and I just wanted to get the letter out of the way,” said Van Niekerk.

He was, however, at pains to convince the court that he did not fully grasp the implications of writing the letter of apology.

Van Niekerk maintained that while he was with the other three accused when the alleged murder of Cornelius and the kidnapping of Marsh took place, he himself played no part in the murder or rape. 

The judge said on Tuesday that she found that Van Niekerk was in no way coerced into writing the letter and that he wrote it out of his own free will. 

She is yet to rule on the admissibility of the apology letter.

The trial resumes on Wednesday.

Weekend Argus