Pretoria - Three Zimbabweans who killed former world heavyweight boxing champion Corrie Sanders during an armed robbery were jailed for 43 years each on Wednesday, of which they have to serve 30.
High Court in Pretoria Judge Ferdi Preller sentenced Paida Fish, Chris Moyo and Samuel Mabena, all in their 20s, to 18 years imprisonment for murdering Sanders.
They were sentenced to 19 years for armed robbery and a further six years for possession of unlicensed firearms and ammunition.
Preller ordered that some of the sentences run concurrently, giving a sentence of in effect 30 years for each of the three men. They are all first offenders.
Sanders, 46, was shot during an armed robbery at the Thatch Haven Country Lodge outside Brits while attending his nephew's 21st birthday party on September 22, 2012. He died the next day in the Kalafong Hospital.
Sanders was talking to his daughter Marinique and a cousin near the entrance to the boma when the three stormed in and started shooting.
He was hit when he moved in front of his daughter to protect her.
Sanders was already bleeding from wounds to his arm and stomach when he pulled her to the ground and told her to pretend she was dead.
The robbers ordered guests to lie down and demanded their handbags, cellphones and cash. Two of the guests later identified Fish and Moyo at a police identity parade.
The Zimbabweans were arrested a few days later at the Oukasie informal settlement near Brits after a tip-off. All were found in possession of some of the items taken.
Preller said he was aware many people thought the death penalty should be re-introduced.
Others thought murderers only needed education and correction and that non-custodial sentences should be imposed for murder, he said.
"Fortunately... trials and sentences are not conducted by way of opinion polls. I am left in the middle... and can do no better than to follow the law," he said.
A life sentence is prescribed for premeditated murder, murder during an armed robbery, and murder by a group acting with common purpose.
"There is no doubt in my mind that the robbery had been premeditated, carefully planned and carried out with military precision. It is also clear that part of pre-planning was the decision to start off proceedings by firing off shots," he said.
"The intention of that shooting would undoubtedly have been to intimidate the victims and make sure there is no resistance. Since not one of the witnesses who gave evidence actually saw the firing of the fatal shot it is impossible to make any finding about the circumstances under which the deceased was shot.
"It would have made a big difference in this case if there had been a finding that one of perpetrators had shot the deceased deliberately at the beginning of the proceedings.
"It may well have been the case... in order to intimidate the victims, but there is no evidence to support such a finding and I cannot make that finding.
"The finding I made was that the deceased had been shot in the course of the random shooting and that he was not shot and wounded with direct intent," Preller said.
He said although he was painfully aware of the consequences Sanders's murder had on his two children, his mother and the rest of his family, his finding that there had not been any direct intent to murder justified the imposition of a lesser sentence.
Preller did not regard the accused's relative youth and clean criminal records as mitigation, nor the fact that they were from another country.
"I am aware that the accused are all Zimbabwean citizens who fled their country to try and make a better living in South Africa.
"Whether the better life for which they came included the commission of serious crimes is unfortunately not clear on the evidence," he said.
Preller described the murder as incidental to the robbery, but the robbery itself as carefully planned.
"The three had clearly intended to 'go big'. They chose a big crowd of victims and they planned the proper way of ensuring the absence of resistance. That was to open proceedings with a series of shots.
"There is not sufficient evidence to even remotely make an estimate of the value of the goods that were robbed... The proceeds must have been substantial.
"It is also clear to me that this was not a group of amateurs who committed the robbery.
"The perpetrators must have had some experience with this form of crime. I regard this as one of the more serious kinds of robberies," he said.
Sanders's mother Alida, his son Dean, daughter Marinique, and brother Michael were among the relatives at court on Wednesday. All were in tears.
A heartbroken Alida Sanders said she had no words to explain how she felt about the accused. She said they had destroyed her life and she would never be the same again after her son's senseless murder, who had been a "wonderful man".
Michael Sanders said they had expected life sentences, but had listened carefully to the judge's reasoning and accepted his verdict.
The family now wanted to start their lives afresh before thinking about forgiveness for his brother's murderers, he said.
Marinique Sanders said she was not happy about the sentence.
Her father would never see her and her brother grow up and they would never have the privilege of seeing him grow old.
"The grief and longing will always be there, but the family is doing well and we're thankful for everything we have," she said.