Cape Town – Seventy-seven-year-old Wellington author Winnie Rust may have tried to fight off her attacker, the Western Cape High Court heard on Thursday during the murder trial of the teenager she had tried to help.
Paarl forensic pathologist Deidre Abrahams said the bruises, scratches and fractures she found on Rust's body indicate that she might have put up a struggle as she was being tied up, strangled and asphyxiated.
"It appears to be a person who was trying to get out of that position or struggling against the position or the restraint."
She found bruises and scratches around the philanthropist's nose, which could indicate that she was fighting against having her nose and mouth covered.
She had half a ligature mark on her neck – which could mean that somebody either pushed against her neck, or grabbed her from behind with a rope-like object – and ligature marks on her wrists and ankles.
Rust was found dead in her home on May 11 by her retired doctor husband Manie, 85.
Nigel Plaatjies, 19, a young man Rust had been helping through school and with career guidance, and his uncle, Johannes Plaatjies, have been accused of murder, attempted murder, attempted arson and a raft of theft and fraud charges.
On the day of the murder, Nigel was expected at the house to discuss the matter of Rust helping him get his driver's licence.
In his plea agreement, Nigel pleaded guilty to all the theft charges related to the use of her bank cards, and not guilty to the murder, attempted murder and attempted arson charges. The latter two relate to a burning candle found next to a gas stove at the Rust house with the implication that the act may have been an attempt to blow up the crime scene.
Johannes has pleaded not guilty to all charges except selling two gold rings.
In his plea explanation, Nigel said he reluctantly agreed to help Johannes stage a robbery to help get Johannes out of trouble with a drug dealer he owed money to.
He said he did not intend for Rust to die, and was remorseful. So far the court has heard that the two allegedly went on a shopping spree with her cards on the day of her death.
Evidence of manual strangulation
Abrahams said she examined Rust's body at 17:10 on the day of her death, and conducted the autopsy the next day, on May 12, 2016.
She concluded that there was evidence of manual strangulation, bleeding into the muscles of her neck, bruises on the lips, the inner cheek, on her face, and scratch marks around her nose and left side of her face. She also had a fracture of the hyoid bone, which is also called the tongue bone.
Her attacker also placed a hand over her nose and mouth to obstruct her airways, in addition to the strangulation.
There was also "pinpoint hemorrhaging" on her forehead, the upper part of her nose, her eyelid, the skin on her cheekbones and below an eye. These are signs that she hadn't been able to breathe.
"There wasn't just one fixed firm grip," Abrahams testified.
"Either the assailant missed, or the deceased fought back," she said.
The trial continues.