Pastor jailed over fondling

2008-06-24 00:00

A former pastor at the Meerensee AGS church at Richards Bay, Marthinus P. Coetzee (52), who was found guilty of indecently assaulting three young female members of his congregation during “counselling” sessions between 2002 and 2005, will go to jail for four years after failing in his appeal to the high court in Pietermaritzburg.

In a reserved judgment handed down yesterday, Judge Piet Koen, with acting Judge Trevor Gorven, confirmed Coetzee’s convictions on four counts of indecent assault and two of crimen injuria, as well as the sentences.

Coetzee was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment (two years conditionally suspended) on each of the four counts of indecent assault, and to 18 months’ imprisonment (half suspended) on each of the two crimen injuria counts.

The sentences were ordered to run concurrently, so his effective sentence is four years in prison plus an additional two years conditionally suspended for four years.

The high court judges did not agree with a submission by advocate J. Marais SC for Coetzee who argued that the magistrate treated the pastor “like a rapist” when he sentenced him, and misdirected himself by comparing his crimes with a case dealing with rape.

The judges ruled there was no misdirection and Koen said the sentence imposed on Coetzee was more in line with what one would expect for indecent assault. He said he would in any event have jailed Coetzee.

Judge Koen said he was “not … impressed” with Coetzee’s failure to show any remorse, but “persisted with his claims of innocence”.

Judge Koen also agreed with advocate Piet Bezuidenhout for the state that the case involved a more serious abuse of a trust relationship than normal, and found that any non-custodial sentence would amount to a mere “slap on the wrist”.

Judge Koen said Coetzee persisted with his conduct and over time showed a “deliberate and wilful disregard for the privacy, dignity, and physical integrity of his victims”.

He said society’s interest in demanding an appropriate sentence to show its “repugnance and disgust” overrides Coetzee’s claim as a first offender not to be sentenced to incarceration.

The charges were that Coetzee caressed the thigh and indecently touched a 19-year-old woman in August 2002 during a counselling session; that on two occasions in January 2003 he indecently assaulted a 16-year-old girl by forcing her to sit on his lap and touching her and by rolling up her skirt over her thighs. He was also found to have questioned her about her relationship with her boyfriend and her preferences with regard to certain sexual acts.

Finally, he was found to have indecently fondled a 21-year-old woman in January 2005, to have asked about her sexual relationship with her boyfriend and told her he wanted to see how nice her breasts were.

Coetzee suggested in his evidence that the charges could be linked to a conspiracy by a faction in the church who wanted to get rid of him.

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