Cheslin Marsh outside the Western Cape High Court. Picture: Noor Slamdien/African News Agency (ANA)
“I was in shock. I was hot. I was helpless.”

This is how 22-year-old theology student Cheslin Marsh said he felt when he was bundled into the boot of his friend Hannah Cornelius’s car and driven around Stellenbosch.

Marsh and Cornelius met friends at a restaurant in Stellenbosch on May 26, 2017 but the evening of fun turned into a nightmare. The pair were later abducted by four men outside the Nouveau apartment building in Stellenbosch where Marsh lived.

Cornelius was raped and killed and her body was discovered on the morning of the next day.

It is the state’s case that Vernon Witbooi, Geraldo Parsons, Eben van Niekerk and Nashville Julius robbed, raped and murdered the Stellenbosch University student.

A distraught Marsh, the state’s first witness, recalled the events of that harrowing night in the Western Cape High Court this week. Proceedings had to be stopped several times so he could compose himself.

This week the court was also shown a video confession made by Witbooi, in which he details his version of what had happened on the night Cornelius was killed.

Vernon Witbooi, Geraldo Parsons, Eben van Niekerk and Nashville Julius in the Western Cape High Court.
Vernon Witbooi, Geraldo Parsons, Eben van Niekerk and Nashville Julius in the Western Cape High Court. The trial of the four, who are accused of kidnapping, raping and murdering Stellenbosch student Hannah Cornelius, continues next week. Picture: David Ritchie African News Agency (ANA)

According to Witbooi’s written statement, he, Parsons and Van Niekerk went to the Stellenbosch city centre after dark on the Friday night after taking drugs “to see what we could get”. Witbooi claimed that they met Julius on their way there and he walked along with them.

According to the statement, they spotted Cornelius’s blue Golf with two occupants parked in Bird Street. They initially walked around the block because Parsons allegedly said they should take the car and force the people into the boot.

Marsh testified that he had known Cornelius since February 2017. “Hannah Cornelius was always helpful. She always put others first.”

He said he and Cornelius had been chatting in the car outside his apartment building when they were ambushed by the four accused.

“I suddenly saw a hand, holding a screwdriver, coming through the driver’s window. The person held the screwdriver close to Hannah Cornelius’s neck and the next moment there was another person at my side as well. They said they would kill us if we made a noise,” said Marsh, sobbing.

The court heard Marsh was forced to the back seat and the two men climbed into the car with Cornelius sandwiched between them.

Marsh said while he was in the back seat, two more men climbed into the back of the car. “They then decided to put me in the boot. They took my waistcoat, wallet, cellphone and Caterpillar boots,” he said, crying uncontrollably.

From the boot of the car he could hear Cornelius arguing with the four accused, but then she became calm and followed their instructions.

“They told us that they just wanted the car to get home and that as soon as they were home, they would give the car back to us,” said Marsh.

The four accused face a string of charges, including murder, aggravated robbery, kidnapping and rape.

The trial continues next week.