Croeser found guilty

2012-01-17 00:00

EMOTIONS overflowed in the high court in Pietermaritzburg yesterday when Judge Esther Steyn found local police Constable Morne Croeser (34) guilty of murder for “viciously” stabbing his wife, Erika, multiple times at their Albert Falls home in the early hours of August 28, 2010.

The blood seemed to drain from Croeser’s already tense face as the court asked him to stand and pronounced its verdict, after a judgment lasting just under three hours.

Judge Steyn immediately cancelled Croeser’s bail and refused to extend it pending arguments on sentence today.

Tears ran down the cheeks of friends and family of Erika Croeser in the public gallery when the verdict was announced.

Later, when the court ordered Croeser to remain in custody overnight someone clapped.

Erika Croeser’s twin brother, Francois, elder brother, Gerhard, and mother, Francoisona Schafer, embraced family and friends as the court adjourned.

Speaking for the family, Gerhard Schafer said the verdict has brought them some closure. The family expressed gratitude in particular to investigating officer Swami Pillay, state forensic experts Ian van der Nest and Sietze Albertse, and state advocate Irene Neyt.

As far as sentence is concerned they will allow the law to take its course, but added Gerhard in an aside, “a mediaeval sentence would be good”.

Croeser’s distressed father, Danie, who was the only family member on his side to attend the judgment, didn’t want to comment.

“I’m like a zombie just now. I can’t say anything,” he said.

He said being “old fashioned”, he had not wanted his wife (Croeser’s mother) to go through the ordeal of the trial, which was why she was not present.

Later as he stood staring disconsolately after his son as he was led downstairs to the cells below court, Francoisona Schafer went to him, put her arms around him compassionately and he began to cry.

She told The Witness there is no animosity between the families.

“We have never been cross with each other and we have to think of the two little girls we now have to raise,” she said referring to her grandchildren.

Judge Steyn said Croeser’s version, that he and Erika were attacked by an intruder when they arrived home at Msinsi reserve in the early hours after socialising at the Amble-Inn pub, was not reasonably possibly true.

She said although the circumstances of the killing remained unknown, the court was in “no doubt” that it was Croeser who had inflicted the multiple stab wounds (14 in all) to his wife’s face and neck.

The circumstantial evidence showed no independent sign of any intruder at the house. While the wounds inflicted on Erika Croeser showed a “vicious attack”, the stab wound to Croeser’s abdomen was not serious or life threatening.

The court relied in its findings on the analysis of evidence by Van der Nest and Albertse, as well as other medical evidence.

Judge Steyn did not, however, find that Croeser planned the attack on his wife in advance, as suggested by the prosecution.

Facts raised in support of that contention included the couple’s volatile marriage during which Erika Croeser suffered physical and emotional abuse (including his long-standing affair with school teacher Ruth Sinclair from 2009), the fact that Croeser had made threats prior to the incident that he would kill anyone who tried to take his children from him, two (allegedly staged) incidents of an “intruder” at the Croesers’ home prior to the murder on August 24 and 25, as well as the fact that Croeser had time to stage a housebreaking on the night in question.

Judge Steyn found that while there was a likelihood the events preceding the killing “formed part of a plan to kill or hurt her” and Croeser’s conduct that week was “not without question”, the court was not prepared to speculate.

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