Experts can't agree on cemetery killer

2012-10-29 22:30
Maartens van der Merwe (Volksblad)

Maartens van der Merwe (Volksblad)

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Virginia - Different psychiatric findings on whether Welkom graveyard murder accused Maartens van der Merwe is fit to stand trial came before the Free State High Court on Monday.

Van der Merwe, 25, appeared in the Virginia Circuit Court for his trial to start. He is accused of killing and dismembering Welkom resident Michael van Eck, 23, in 2010.

His trial was separated from that of his co-accused Charne van Heerden, 21, in 2010. Van Heerden was declared a dangerous criminal and sentenced to a minimum of 20 years behind bars on November last year after being convicted of Van Eck’s murder.

Some of Van Eck’s remains were found in a shallow grave at the Welkom cemetery, while others, including the skin from his face, were found in the couple’s fridge.

State prosecutor Johan de Nysschen told Circuit Judge Ian van der Merwe the case had a history of psychiatric reports which had found Van der Merwe either fit for trial, or not, at different times.

"The [trial] court needs to decide on the incompatibility of the reports."

The State wanted a final decision by the trial court on Van der Merwe’s fitness to stand trial. Van der Merwe's counsel Pieter Nel had no objection, in the interests of justice.

The State’s first witness Merryll Vorster, a Johannesburg forensic psychiatric, testified she found no mental illness during her evaluation of Van der Merwe. She could find no link between certain identified behaviours, such as the crucifixion of cats, and cult beliefs.


Cross-examined by Nel, Vorster repeated that the evidence before her showed "no psychic disorder" in Van der Merwe.

The second State witness was doctor Wian Meintjes, a consultant psychiatrist at the Free State Psychiatric Complex (FSPC) in Bloemfontein.

He testified Van der Merwe had received treatment for schizophrenia at secondary school level. Van der Merwe was treated at the children’s unit at the FSPC after suddenly showing behavioural problems.

Meintjes said Van der Merwe, who had received the maximum medicinal dose for the treatment of schizophrenia, had showed good recovery signs at times.

However, Meintjes said he was shocked when he read about Van der Merwe’s arrest for the Van Eck murder. Meintjes did not want to give expert comment on questions of diminished capacity when Nel cross-examined him.

FSPC psychiatric unit head Janus Pretorius testified to the different findings on Van der Merwe’s competence to stand trial. He said a multi-professional psychiatric team had looked at Van der Merwe’s case and given opinions.

When asked whether the trial could start on Monday, Pretorius said: "Yes."

However, he said Van der Merwe had signs that could account for diminished capacity when the crimes were committed.

Judge Van der Merwe adjourned the matter to Tuesday.

The State was expected to call one more expert witness.

Van der Merwe has not pleaded yet.

Read more on:    maartens van der merwe  |  bloemfontein

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