The State has failed us, says Pretoria couple after case against alleged attackers struck from roll

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Ruan van Heerden (18) and Colson William Phelps (22) in the Pretoria Magistrate's Court. Photo Deaan Vivier
Ruan van Heerden (18) and Colson William Phelps (22) in the Pretoria Magistrate's Court. Photo Deaan Vivier
  • The case against Ruan van Heerden, who is accused of attacking his parents in their home in January 2020, has been struck from the roll.
  • The Pretoria Magistrate's Court removed the case after finding the State was to blame for the unreasonable delays.
  • Van Heerden's father, said the State had failed him and his wife as the victims.

The State has failed us, says a Pretoria couple who was allegedly attacked by their son and his two friends after the criminal case was struck from the court roll due to unreasonable delays.

These were the sentiments of Barnie and Magda van Heerden after the case against their son, Ruan van Heerden, and his two co-accused was removed from the Pretoria Magistrate's Court roll on Wednesday.

Ruan, 18, along with his friends, Carlson Phelps, 22, and a girl who cannot be named because she was a minor at the time, are accused of attacking Barnie and Magda in their home in Pierre van Ryneveld, Centurion, in January 2020.

Stabbed 36 times

During the late-night attack, Magda was stabbed 36 times and left for dead, while Barnie, who was sleeping at the time, was stabbed and repeatedly beaten with a golf club.  

It is alleged Ruan and his friends then stole valuables - including cellphones, cash and Barnie's bank cards - before fleeing the scene in his vehicle.

The vehicle was found abandoned near Thembisa, while Ruan was arrested a day later, after allegedly using his father's bank card to pay for an Uber trip 600km away in Aliwal North, the Eastern Cape.

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The three accused have been charged with two counts of attempted murder, robbery with aggravating circumstances and theft.

On Thursday, Barnie sat in the gallery of the court as his son, Phelps and the third co-accused stood in the dock as their legal representatives brought an application to have the case struck from the roll, which was successful.

He questioned whether the courts considered the rights and views of victims in these cases.

'We are scared for our lives'

Speaking to News24 after court, a visibly emotional Barnie said the State had failed to protect him and his wife as the victims.

He added it had ignored warnings by the court about the delays and prepared badly for the case.

"Now, we have been placed in a life-threatening situation again."

Barnie said he would have to get a protection order against his son. "We are scared for our lives."

He added ever since the attack, their lives have been destroyed and his wife now must undergo dialysis three times a week and had a stoma (opening in her body) due to the extensive damage done by the multiple stab wounds.

Application to strike case from the roll

Prosecutor JP Liebenberg told the court the case had been delayed for more than a year because the State was awaiting a bed at Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital so Phelps could undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

He had asked for the evaluation because during his bail application, it was placed on record he suffered from psychosis and had stopped taking his medication around the time of the alleged attack.

Phelps was granted bail of R8 000, while Ruan is still in custody and the third co-accused was released into the care of her parents and warned to appear in court.

Liebenberg placed it on record that Covid-19 was to blame for the delays in getting a bed.

Ruan's legal aid attorney, Thabiso Mabifi, told the court at a previous appearance, the case had been marked final for the purpose of disclosure and for a bed to become available at Weskoppies.

He argued a year later, the bed had still not become available and the continued delaying tactics by the State prejudiced his client.  

Mabifi further argued the delays were unreasonable and the case should be struck from the roll and could be re-enrolled once the State was ready.

Advocate Louis Kok for Phelps said the delays in the case brought the justice system into disrepute and argued a generic circular by Weskoppies, explaining the backlog due to the pandemic, was of no value to the court.

He added the State was also being disingenuous about the investigations being completed and the reasons as to why the docket had not yet been disclosed.

"No fair trial can take place in a situation like this."

Kok opined the case could have been much further along by now, if the State had accepted Phelps as a state witness.

"The State is not being honest with the court and not playing open cards. The matter should be struck from the roll."

'Prisoners in their own home'

Liebenberg hit back and said the delays were not borne out of a dereliction of duty on the side of the State.

He argued the judiciary was in a difficult position due to the pandemic that had prolonged waiting times in psychiatric hospital.

Liebenberg said the disclosure was ready and investigations have been completed.

He added the court should consider the impact of the case on the victims and if it was struck off, bail conditions would fall away for Phelps and Ruan would be released from prison.

"The victims will be turned into prisoners in their own home."

Magistrate Thandi Theledi struck the case from the roll after finding the State had unreasonably delayed it.

Theledi said it should have gotten its house in order and it had been warned to do so, adding the accused were not to blame for the delays.

She, however, warned the accused the case had not been withdrawn and they would still stand trial and be prosecuted.

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