Child killer apologises to murdered Courtney Pieters' mother for 'what he has done' (Warning: sensitive details)

Self-confessed child killer Mortimer Saunders on Tuesday apologised to Courtney Pieters' mother for "what he has done".

This, as defence advocate Mornay Calitz concluded his cross-examination of Juanita Pieters, the State's first witness, in the Western Cape High Court.

"I have forgiven Morty, but I will never be able to forget it," Juanita replied after spending the morning in the witness stand.

Saunders faces charges of premeditated murder and rape but denies that the three-year-old's death was planned or that he had sex with her.

However, he confessed to murder and using his fingers to penetrate her after her death.

READ: Mortimer Saunders pleads guilty to murdering Courtney Pieters, 3, performing sexual act with her corpse

Juanita testified that, during the late afternoon and evening on May 4 last year, she and other Elsies River locals had gone to search for Courtney after her son told her the toddler was missing.

She had left the two young children at home when she went to work at Hungry Lion in Parow that morning.

They had walked to Vasco, Goodwood, Ruyterwacht and their own streets, Juanita said, but could not recall if Saunders - who rented a room in the home - had been with them.

Courtney's body found

Courtney's body was found nine days later in Epping.

Juanita said police collected her and her boyfriend Aaron Fourie at their Pluto Way home and told her a body had been found.

They were not allowed to go to the scene as it had not yet been established if it was Courtney.

She testified that the following day, she and Fourie as well as his nephew, were again picked up and a policeman asked her to "phone Morty" to go to the police station.

She said he asked her in Afrikaans: "Netta, what are they saying? Who is it?"

Juanita said she told him not to "worry about what they are saying. Just come down to the police station. We will talk later about what they're saying".

He never arrived, despite claiming to be on his way.

Denied knowing Saunders

Prosecutor Esmeralda Cecil referred Juanita to still images of CCTV footage which showed Saunders near a silicone factory in Epping.

Juanita admitted that this had been shown to her by the police and that she had denied that she knew who the person was.

"I was very shocked to see these photos. I lied to Captain Taylor and said I didn't know that man." 

She said she had known Saunders to be "decent".

"He wasn't such a person. I couldn't believe it was Morty."

"He was a quiet person. He loved children. And he loved Courtney very much."

Pieters said she and Saunders didn't like each other and that Saunders had caused problems between her and her boyfriend by telling stories about her.

Saunders was a childhood friend of Fourie and he often slept over and drank at the house before moving in.

Calitz asked her if this included his client telling Fourie that she was not taking proper care of the children. The mother of four claimed to have no knowledge of this.

"No, Morty just plainly tried to make trouble between me and Aaron," Juanita said.

Errands for Saunders

While they had a strained relationship, Juanita confirmed she would do Saunders' washing and other errands because he paid her for what she did.

Courtney went to Saunders' room on many occasions, but never alone, Juanita insisted.

She would always be accompanied by her friends, cousins, or Saunders' daughter, with whom she played regularly.

Cecil asked Juanita if she had previously left Courtney unattended, prior to her child going missing. 

She did, for an hour at most, when she was in the street or at a neighbour's home, Juanita admitted.

Children left alone

Juanita started crying during her evidence-in-chief, telling the court she accepted that she was partly to blame for leaving her children alone when she had gone to work that day.

The week before her disappearance, Juanita said she had asked a relative Marsha Wenn - who lived in the backyard of the property - to look after Courtney. But she did not have money to pay her the following week.

"I left Courtney at home because I knew Marsha was there and would keep an eye on her," Juanita said.

Calitz asks if she assumed this, and she said that she did. 

For four months prior, after Juanita got a job as a cleaner, this had been the case.

Saunders had moved into the Pluto Street house about two years before the murder after Fourie had asked his sister if his friend could live there, Juanita said.

Saunders had at first lived in the living room and slept on a couch before moving into his room on the ground floor, Juanita said.

Calitz put it to her that his client had also shared a room with her family and they had slept on separate beds.

Juanita denied this.

During her testimony, Juanita said the night before Courtney had gone missing, the toddler had fallen asleep still dressed in the clothes she had worn that day. Her mother didn't want to wake her up.

When she was murdered she had still been dressed in the denim shorts and a floral top with yellow sleeves.

Mortimer admitted to using ant poison to poison Courtney, before assaulting her because of ill relations between him and Juanita.

Juanita denied they had an ant problem in the house, although there had been cockroaches.

Calitz pointed out that Saunders kept food in his room, that he cooked there and also had a fridge.

She agreed, saying she sometimes used his fridge and cleaned it when he asked her to.

She, however, maintained that as far as she knew, there were never any ants in the rooms.

The trial is under way.

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