SEE: 'Don't be angry with me, please' – accused in letter to Hannah Cornelius' parents

2018-10-23 15:39
Eben van Niekerk (centre) with Vernon Witboo (left) and Nashville Julius (right). (Jenni Evans, News24)

Eben van Niekerk (centre) with Vernon Witboo (left) and Nashville Julius (right). (Jenni Evans, News24)

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"Don't be angry with me, please," one of the men on trial for the rape and murder of Stellenbosch University student Hannah Cornelius wrote in a letter to her parents.

The letter was on Tuesday admitted as evidence following a trial-within-a-trial over the admissibility of the document, which Eben van Niekerk claims was written at the instruction of Stellenbosch police officer Sergeant Steven Adams.

The letter was written following his arrest, before he and his co-accused made their first appearance in the Stellenbosch Magistrate's Court.Riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, the letter – translated from Afrikaans – reads:

"Herewith I write this letter to Henna's mom and dad. I am sorry for what I did and I ask if they can forgive me for what I have done… The girl was like a friend to me but the other accused, I was also scared of them and it wasn't nice to see. I was also scared of them. Don't be angry at me please (sic)."It is headed, "This letter comes from Eben VNK" and is signed and initialed.

READ: Hannah Cornelius detective denies forcing accused to write letter to her parents

Prior to its admission, defence lawyer advocate Dudley Johnson had argued that his client was instructed by Adams to write the letter.On Monday Adams testified that while transporting Van Niekerk to Victoria Hospital for an examination with the district surgeon, the accused heard a news report about the student's murder on a radio news bulletin.

Van Niekerk asked him if he was in trouble, and Adams responded that he didn't know as, he claimed, he wasn't even aware what the accused was under investigation for at the time.

According to Adams, Van Niekerk asked for a pen and paper once he was back in his cell at the police station.

He complied, and Van Niekerk later gave him the letter which the officer handed to his commander the following day, Adams testified.

But when Van Niekerk was called to the witness stand, he denied that Sergeant Bongile Mputumi, who Adams said had accompanied him that day, had been with them in the police vehicle. He claimed a coloured, heavy-set detective had been with them.

'I thought it would make things easier for me'

He claimed that the radio had not even been turned on in the vehicle.

Van Niekerk testified that the two officers told him that Cornelius' murder was a "big case" and that he could be sentenced to many years behind bars.

He claimed that at the Stellenbosch police station, Adams gave him a pen and paper and told him to write to "die kind se mense (the child's people)" to say he is sorry.

Van Niekerk said he was told what to write, and instructed to sign at the bottom.

"I thought it would make things easier for me. That's how he explained it," he testified.

He said the letter was intended for "that girl's people", but that he thought it would be added to the State's evidence and not given to her family.

String of charges

Both the State and the defence agreed that the letter was more of an admission than it was a confession.

Van Niekerk, Geraldo Parsons, Vernon Witbooi and Nashville Julius face a string of charges including murder, aggravated robbery, kidnapping and rape.

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

Cornelius was threatened with a screwdriver, while Marsh was forced into the backseat of his friend's car at knifepoint.

Marsh was assaulted and left for dead while Cornelius was later raped and stabbed to death.

Earlier, Ncumisa Qwina, who had been robbed of her bag after Cornelius' murder, testified that men in a blue Citi Golf had robbed her that morning in Northpine at about 08:30.

She said she had been walking near Palomino Road when she saw the car, with four occupants, parked next to a local church.

She claimed two men had gotten out of the car and as she continued walking, she had a feeling she was being followed.

After crossing the road, she saw two people behind her, specifically pointing out Van Niekerk, who she said had reached into his pants. She said Witbooi had been with him.

She had started to run and had fallen, dropping her bag. She got up and fled, and the men had picked up and taken her belongings.

She also claimed Julius had been at the scene, although it had been established that he had fled in Stellenbosch after Cornelius and Marsh had been robbed.

One suspect has not yet been identified by the State, ostensibly a man called "Kaffertjie" who Witbooi mentioned in his confession. This suspect's DNA was also found at the rape scene.  

Qwina said the fourth suspect had "looked like a Xhosa man".

The trial resumes on Wednesday.

Read more on:    hannah cornelius  |  cape town  |  courts

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