Courtney Pieters murder trial postponed for consultations over forensic tests

2018-08-14 12:15
Mortimer Saunders in court on Tuesday. (Jenni Evans, News24)

Mortimer Saunders in court on Tuesday. (Jenni Evans, News24)

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The trial of the man accused of the premeditated murder and the rape of Elsies River three-year-old Courtney Pieters has been postponed until next week for consultations over further forensic tests done by the State.

The State was granted permission to submit evidence of further testing done on samples of vaginal and neck tissue taken from the little girl's body when the trial resumed in the Western Cape High Court on Tuesday.

The point was to help clarify whether "blebs" - little blisters found on her decomposed neck and genitalia - contained red blood cells and, if it was blood, whether it was possible to determine if they were made before or after her death.

In a lengthy explanation, State pathologist Professor Johan Dempers said that tests using markers to identify red blood cells in blebs can cost up to R10 000. Because of the cost, they were not done routinely.

READ: Blood on Courtney Pieters' jeans, panties doesn't necessarily mean she was raped - defence (Warning: Sensitive details)

When the court last sat there were questions over whether injuries Courtney sustained to her vagina and neck had been inflicted before or after her death.

Judge Pearl Mantame allowed the State's application on Tuesday to bring extra forensic evidence related to this question.

Dempers testified that extra research on detecting red blood cells had been brought to his attention.

An arrangement was also made for the red cell marker tests to be done through a private laboratory.

However, although he could conclude that the samples did indeed show the presence of red blood cells, he too could not say whether the bleeding happened before or after Courtney's death.

Saunders has been charged with the little girl's premeditated murder and rape. She was last seen on May 4.

Her body was found days later in a shallow grave in Epping, an industrial area of Cape Town.

Ant poison

He has, however, only pleaded guilty to murder, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years. If he is found guilty of premeditated murder, he could be sentenced to life in prison.

He also denied the charge of rape, and pleaded guilty to sexual activity with a corpse instead, which carries no minimum sentence. A guilty verdict of rape of a minor could result in a 15-year sentence.

READ: Courtney Pieters murder: 'Further scientific developments' lead to postponement of trial

In his plea explanation, Saunders admitted to giving the toddler ant poison and then later choking her and using a towel to close her mouth, but denied having penetrative sex with her.

He said he had penetrated her with his fingers and had rubbed his penis on her vaginal area when she was dead.

Later he had buried her.

Saunders was a tenant in the house where Courtney's mother Juanita lived.

The court has heard that, at the time, he had "ill feelings" towards Courtney's mother, and was irritated that Courtney wanted to watch television in his room on his day off.

Dempers said that, as much as he would have liked to have presented conclusive evidence that his "red marker" histology tests could show whether Pieters bled before or after her death, he could not say so.

"This is not conclusive," he said.

The case was adjourned to Monday, August 20, for Saunders's private pathologist to study Dempers's findings.

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Read more on:    courtney pieters  |  mortimer saunders  |  cape town  |  courts

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