He wanted to kill Courtney, State argues in Mortimer Saunders trial (Warning: Graphic details)

2018-09-17 15:39
Mortimer Saunders in court. (File, Jenni Evans, News24)

Mortimer Saunders in court. (File, Jenni Evans, News24)

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The actions of Mortimer Saunders on the day he murdered Courtney Pieters was not that of someone who only wanted the three-year-old to become sick, the State submitted in the Western Cape High Court on Monday.

"Why did he choke her? The mechanism suggests he wanted to kill her," prosecutor Esmeralda Cecil said during her closing argument.

"He closed her mouth with a towel. He put hands around her neck. These actions show that his intention was clear. He waited for her to die… From his actions, getting rid of the body shows he wanted to finish his plan."

Cecil asked the court to convict Saunders of both charges and to sentence him to two life terms for rape and premeditated murder.

Courtney's decomposing body was discovered in Epping Industria in May, nine days after her disappearance from her Elsies River home.

Saunders has been charged with premeditated murder and rape but denies that he planned the toddler's death or that he raped her while she was alive.

ALSO READ: Defence pathologist stands by his testimony on Courtney Pieters rape claims ( Warning: graphic details)

In a plea explanation, he confessed to murder and to using his fingers to penetrate her after her death.

Saunders said he had given Courtney ant poison to make her sick before he choked her, beat her and used a towel to cover her mouth.

He claimed he had done it because of "ill feelings" between him and her mother, Juanita.

At the start of the trial, Cecil would not accept Saunders' claim that he performed a sexual act on a corpse and said the only reasonable inference from the injuries to Pieters' genitals was that she had been raped.

Cecil submitted that expert evidence confirmed that a penis could have caused her vaginal injuries, despite Saunders' claim that he had only used his fingers.

He maintained that he had used three fingers and that he had become aroused leading to him putting his penis on her body and around her vagina.

"If one accepts his version, where did the male DNA from the deep vaginal wall come from?" Cecil asked.

She said it was highly improbable that it had come from his fingers as his explanation was that he had only used his penis after the "digital contamination".

READ: There are no injuries to Courtney Pieters' genital area - defence pathologist (WARNING: Graphic details)

She also argued that Saunders knew the effect the poison would have on Courtney when he administered it to her, saying he had planned to kill the child because he had to leave his bedroom to fetch water to mix the substance.

Cecil further dismissed Saunders' claim that he killed Courtney after he panicked when people started to look for the child, pointing out that a relative of Courtney who had seen him that day said he appeared normal and his demeanour was "the way she knew him".

The lack of an ant problem in the house also indicated that the only reason he had the ant poison in his possession was to "use it on a person".

However, defence advocate Mornay Calitz said the State did not prove that the murder was premeditated, saying that his client pleaded guilty to "plain murder", which had not been planned.

He said it was taken for granted that Saunders had knowledge of how much poison would be needed to kill a child when experts were unable to give a reference fatal dosage.

"If he wanted to kill her with poison, why not allow the poison to do its work?" he asked.

"He panicked when people looked for her, not because she became sick. He didn't want to be caught as the one who made the child sick.”

He also argued that if she had been raped, those in close proximity would have been alerted to her cries.

Calitz conceded that his client should have foreseen that Courtney could die of the poison he had given her, but maintained it had been "spur of the moment conduct" and that what had transpired that day did not paint a picture of a "thought-out process".

There was no evidence that Saunders had "procured poison for a particular purpose", he argued.

Calitz said the objective medical evidence pertaining to the rape charge "does not point one or the other way", and that it was not certain if she was "alive or not when she was penetrated".

Judge Pearl Mantame questioned why he would have become aroused after her death.

Calitz said his client had "wanted it to look like a rape" so that he wouldn't look like a suspect, but "when he [used his fingers], he became aroused".

Judgment will be handed down on October 17.

Read more on:    courtney pieters  |  cape town  |  crime

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