'I didn't commit any crime' – accused in Hannah Cornelius murder

2018-10-17 17:15
Matie student Hannah Cornelius. (Netwerk24)

Matie student Hannah Cornelius. (Netwerk24)

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"I was with them but didn't commit any crime," one of the men accused of the gang rape and murder of Hannah Cornelius said to the head of the Stellenbosch police detectives.

This was following his arrest three days after the student was brutally killed and her friend severely assaulted and left for dead.

Colonel Damon Beneke told the Western Cape High Court that Eben Van Niekerk "looked like he wanted to tell his side of the story, [and say] that he had nothing to do with it" when he was assigned to take the suspect's warning statement on May 30, 2017.

Beneke testified that Van Niekerk was informed of his rights and he requested a Legal Aid lawyer, but as it was after hours, one would only be available for him the following day.

According to Beneke, Van Niekerk appeared eager to make a statement, nevertheless.

"On Saturday in the early hours of the morning, we walked from the house," Van Niekerk told Beneke, who asked him who the "we" was that he was referring to.

'I was with them'

"Raldo and Katjies and one person whose name I don't know, together," Van Niekerk responded.

"We first moved around at Kilotreads until Katjies said there were people in the car."

Beneke asked which car, and Van Niekerk said "a blue Golf".

The colonel told Judge Rosheni Allie that he had again informed Van Niekerk of his rights, and the detainee had responded that he would rather "choose to tell my involvement to my lawyer because that I can't argue against as I was with them but didn't commit any crime".

Van Niekerk, along with Vernon Witbooi, Geraldo Parsons and Nashville Julius, pleaded not guilty to a string of charges including murder, aggravated robbery, kidnapping and rape.

According to fingerprint expert Captain Nomfundo Ngwenya only Parsons' fingerprints and palm print had been found on Cornelius' blue Citi Golf.

The four accused in trial for the murder and rape The four accused in trial for the murder and rape of Hannah Cornelius and attack on her friend Cheslin Marsh are seen in court. (Jenni Evans, News24)

Raped, stabbed to death

Other prints had been found in the car, but didn't match the samples of the other three accused, Ngwenya said.

The men allegedly accosted Cornelius and her friend Cheslin Marsh in her VW Citi Golf at the corner of Jan Celliers and Bird streets in the early hours of May 27, 2017.

Cornelius was threatened with a screwdriver while Marsh was forced into the back seat of his friend's car at knife point.

Cornelius was raped and stabbed to death.

Marsh was robbed of his cellphone and clothes and forced into the car's boot. He was later battered with bricks and left for dead.

He jumped over the back boundary wall of Avral Fortuin, who testified that he had seen a bloodied man outside his kitchen door on the morning of May 27, 2017.

'He asked to phone his mother'

When he looked through the kitchen window and saw Marsh, he thought he was a drug addict. He explained that his house in Bernadino Heights bordered an open field, used during the day as a dumping site and for nefarious deeds after dark.

He recalled asking Marsh what he was doing in his backyard, and him responding that he had jumped over the wall.

"I told him to jump back over then, but the man said 'they' were going to kill him. He asked to phone his mother," Fortuin testified.

"He also asked me to open the gate because my dog had cornered him."

Fortuin complied.

A police vehicle had driven past and Fortuin flagged it down. Marsh left with the officers.

Another victim testifies

Beneke said after hearing Marsh's version of what had happened, he had gone to Fortuin's property to ascertain where the injured student could have come from.

Recalling that Marsh had mentioned seeing a big tree, Beneke spotted it about 300m from the Fortuin home.

Under the tree, he found stones and big building bricks, one which appeared to be bloodstained.

Also read: 'There's a person lying there' - tragic discovery of Hannah Cornelius

Meanwhile, a woman who had allegedly been robbed by the suspects later that day testified that an unknown man had forced her into the car and demanded that she hand over her bank card, cellphones and wedding rings.

Miemie October said she had been walking in Soneike, Kuils River, on her way to catch a taxi when she saw a blue Citi Golf at about 13:00.

A man got out of the car and she thought he wanted to ask for directions, October testified.

Van Niekerk was 'asleep' in the car 

Instead, she was forced at gunpoint into the car and instructed to hand over her valuables.

October said the men drove to a garage in Brackenfell where they withdrew cash from her account. The SMS she received alerted the robbers that she had another phone in her possession, she said.

Her abductors let her out of the car on the side of a road in Brackenfell.

Throughout the ordeal, Van Niekerk had been asleep in the back seat, October told the court.

She identified Parsons as the driver, and Witbooi as the front passenger.

In his confession Witbooi spoke of another suspect, who is unknown to the State.

The trial continues on Thursday.

Read more on:    hannah cornelius  |  cape town  |  courts  |  crime

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