Justice, but no closure

2015-10-20 06:00
Mary Claasen and her son Deon outside the Western Cape High Court following the sentencing of Shannon Petersen, who was found guilty of murdering her other son Devan in January 2013.

Earl Haupt

Mary Claasen and her son Deon outside the Western Cape High Court following the sentencing of Shannon Petersen, who was found guilty of murdering her other son Devan in January 2013. PHOTO: Earl Haupt

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Another painful chapter in the lives of the Claasen family from Hanover Park was closed in the Western Cape High Court last week. Their son’s murderer was sentenced to life in prison.

Judge Thabani Masuku handed down the sentence to Shannon Petersen after he was found guilty of murdering Devan Claasen (then 24) near his home in Recife Court on 27 January 2013.

It was alleged at the time that an ambulance took more than an hour to arrive at the scene where he had been shot, with bystanders claiming that if the ambulance had arrived sooner, Devan would still be alive (“A bloody ‘waste of time’”, People’s Post, 5 February 2013).

The City’s ambulance service responded that they only received the first alert of the incident at 22:12 that night, more than 40 minutes after it is believed Claasen was shot. The ambulance arrived at about 22:30, meaning the ambulance only took 15 minutes to respond, the City said.

Petersen was arrested on the night of the murder near the scene of the crime where he had fired 12 shots, from a firearm which he says he picked up.

The initial court case had been struck off the court roll following the inexplicable disappearance of the court docket last year.

The Claasens laid a complaint with the national prosecuting authority, which then reconstructed the docket to be taken to court for a new trial. The new trial eventually started in August this year.

Devan’s brother, Deon Claasen Jr, sacrificed his job to make it possible for the family to do everything necessary to prosecute Petersen.

“When the docket went missing, I resigned from my work and I decided that I was going to focus and spend my time on this case, going to the key roleplayers in this matter,” he says.

Devan, who was the eldest of four children, was a painter and was working under the tutelage of his father. The duo, along with his brother Deon, were hoping to start their own construction painting company together.

Sadly, the murder has traumatised Claasen Sr to the extent that he can no longer muster the will to work, as his job is a constant reminder of what happened to his son. He also never attended any part of the trial as a result.

Devan’s mother, Mary, says the judgement gave her a bit of closure, but she will never come to terms with what happened.

“I don’t think I will ever be getting closure, because losing a child, you never get to ‘be okay with it’. I am still distraught. I am still traumatised by his death and still can’t come to terms,” she says.

Petersen had claimed that he was incorrectly identified as Claasen’s killer, saying that he left his house to sell a cellphone on the night of the incident and heard shots while he was walking, further claiming that he saw another young man running through the courtyard with a firearm in his hand. He said that he picked up the firearm after claiming that he saw the man throw it to the ground.

Masuku dismissed these claims, finding that Petersen’s testimony had been inconsistent throughout the trial and that his version of events was unlikely. The judge found that the brutality of the murder and the manner in which Claasen was killed was that of an execution.

But Petersen has not provided any explanation or reason for the killing.

“Last week here in court, when he was found guilty, I asked him again: ‘Why did you kill my son?’” says Mary. “He just turned away from me and he said nothing to me. Even the judge said that he couldn’t understand why he killed him and he would like to know what the reason is as it was never said in court.

“I would love to forgive him, but I am not there yet. The day that I do accept it, I’ll know that my heart will be clean. Then I will be able to say: ‘Shannon, I forgive you even though you don’t want to say why.’ But I know, because I am praying to God every day, that God must help me to forgive you, but He must take me through the process.”

Deon Jr. says memories of his brother Devan came flooding back to throughout the trial.

“The trial brought back the emotional feeling that I will never see my brother again. We will have to deal with this (now) and find closure as to what happened,” he says.

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