Five years’ jail for 1997 murder of husband

2007-12-12 00:00

High court Judge Chris Nicholson yesterday sentenced former athlete Heidi McIntosh (42) to five years’ imprisonment for the murder of her husband, William, in 1997, but ordered that half the sentence may be served under correctional supervision at the discretion of the commissioner of Correctional Services.

This means that McIntosh, a mother of two, will serve at least two-and-a-half years in jail.

McIntosh admitted that she shot her allegedly racist husband with a shotgun as he lay sleeping on the night of January 16, 1997, in Newcastle, in the wake of a furious row partly caused by a telephone call from fellow athlete Gary Coetzee, with whom McIntosh had an affair.

She said at the time that the sexual relationship with Coetzee had ended. On medication, depressed and feeling helpless to protect her children, she went to sleep. On waking and still feeling very vulnerable, she decided the only way out of the dilemma was to kill her husband.

Sentencing her yesterday, Nicholson said the case caused him “great anguish” and “the most anxious deliberation”. “The decided cases have urged courts to eschew the role of the indignant censor and remember that the concomitant of justice is mercy and not a sledgehammer,” he said.

Nicholson found the fact McIntosh showed contrition and remorse by handing herself over when there was no chance of her being prosecuted was a very good sign that she could be reformed.

“That she has already suffered during her 10 years of hell is manifest. This in itself is a punishment. But the interests of society must also be protected and the community at large demands some retribution for the taking of a life,” Nicholson said.

The judge said admissions made by McIntosh were a “source of comfort in evaluating her credibility”. When asked why she did not simply leave her husband, she said that he would never have allowed her to take her children with her.

“One has to bear in mind that he threatened to shoot her and the children should she attempt to divorce him. Her long association with him would make her the best judge of whether he was serious in his threats.”

Nicholson said McIntosh impressed him by not attempting to fabricate that her husband physically assaulted her.

“The court was, of course, dependant on her version as the state saw fit to place no countervailing evidence to contradict what she said.”

Nicholson said psychologist Clive Willows concluded that her version was consistent from the time of her confession. Initially, he was clearly concerned that she was fabricating all the facts about her own guilt. However, he concluded she was not delusional.

The judge said that after her husband’s death, McIntosh’s life “fell apart”.

Her relationship with Coetzee and another man ended in a short time. She took to drinking, smoking and abusing medication. Her problems became so serious, she had herself admitted for alcohol dependency and signed consent for a sister to care for her daughter.

After an armed robbery in 2004, a motor vehicle accident and two subsequent attacks on her, she had a nervous breakdown and was hospitalised.

McIntosh’s religious side made her question her life and the murder in particular. The accumulation of trauma and realisation she could not live at peace with herself persuaded her to confess.

ingrido@witness.co.za

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