Step into my shoes — Croeser

2012-03-12 00:00

FORMER police dog handler Morne Croeser (34), who was found guilty of stabbing his wife Erika to death in the early hours of August 28, 2010, said the trial court adopted an “armchair critic approach”.

He submitted that the court should have put itself into his shoes to properly analyse his version.

He also maintained he had no motive for wanting to kill his wife, and said his 23-year jail sentence — coupled with an order that he must serve 15 years before he may get parole — is “extremely harsh”.

Croeser’s submissions are contained in a petition to the chief justice for leave to appeal against his conviction and sentence.

If he succeeds, the appeal could be argued either before the Supreme Court of Appeal or a full bench of three judges in KwaZulu-Natal.

State advocate Irene Neyt has 30 days to oppose the application.

Croeser submitted that Judge Esther Steyn and assessors had been wrong to find that he was not a good witness, “unreasonably criticised” his evidence and “adopted an armchair critic approach” when the court ought to have placed itself in his shoes.

“On my version I was attacked suddenly and without warning. I was stabbed … I was emotional and distraught … It was unreasonable to expect that I should remember fine details of the incident in those circumstances,” he submitted.

Croeser believed a reading of his evidence would demonstrate he was in fact a “relatively good witness”.

He also challenged the court’s dismissal of the evidence by specialist forensic pathologist Dr Reggie Perumal, who testified on his behalf that it was objectively possible that the stab wound to Croeser’s abdomen was caused by an attacker.

The state version, accepted by the court, held that Croeser had stabbed himself to divert suspicion for the murder from himself.

Croeser also argued that he had been convicted on circumstantial evidence alone and that the trial court had ignored “highly relevant and material proven facts” when assessing the evidence.

Concerning his admitted affair with Ruth Sinclair — before and at the time of the murder — Croeser said the state had led evidence that presumed to show there were problems in his marriage.

“My response … was that although I was having the affair, there were no significant problems in my marriage. I still loved my wife and she loved me.”

He pointed out that Erika’s mother had testified that they were “working” on their marriage at the time.

He said he also had admitted in the trial that Erika once contacted a colleague to come to the house to remove his gun because she was scared, but maintains this was an “over-reaction on her part” as he had never threatened her.

Referring to a family meeting over his alleged assault of Erika, and testimony by family members that he’d said he would “kill anyone” who tried to take his children from him, Croeser said that was true.

However, he had said so “as a general proposition like any father might when indicating his love for his children”.

“No evidence was led that at the time of the death of … [Erika] there were any significant problems between us. Nor was there any evidence that the deceased had either threatened to divorce me or threatened to take away the children.

“In fact, on the contrary, the deceased’s brother testified that the deceased loved me, notwithstanding my affair, and did not want to get divorced. I agreed with that. There was no motive for me to want to kill her at all,” he submitted.

Erika Croeser died of multiple stab wounds to her neck and face and sustained defensive injuries to her hand.

The trial court rejected Croeser’s version that the “vicious” stabbing was the work of an intruder and found that circumstantial evidence overwhelmingly pointed to him as the killer.

However, the court did not find that the murder had been premeditated.

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