Cape Town - Nigel Plaatjies admitted that he and his uncle planned the robbery of Afrikaans author Winnie Rust, but that her murder had never been part of their plan.
During sentencing proceedings in the Western Cape High Court on Tuesday, probation officer Katrina Moses said Nigel had alleged that his uncle and co-accused, Johannes Plaatjies, had asked him to help him pay his drug debt.
The 20-year-old said Johannes had threatened him and that he had feared for the well-being of his family.
Nigel had had an appointment with Rust on the day of the murder and had locked the dogs away so that his uncle could get access to the house.
"While he and the deceased spoke about future work opportunities, his uncle entered the house and threatened them with a gun. [Nigel] went to the top storey where the deceased’s husband was asleep.
"He took her handbag, two laptops and cellphones. When he went downstairs, the deceased was lying on the floor with her mouth taped shut and her hands tied. They lit a candle and left it next to an open gas stove before they left the house."
Moses testified that Nigel had said he had lied about his involvement because he was scared, and had later felt nothing he said would be believed.
'He spoke of his regret and remorse'
"The accused states that he didn’t have the emotional energy to look the deceased’s family in the eye. This was according to him the only reason why he did not testify in court.
"He states that his decision to help his uncle was taken too quickly and was not well thought through. He mentions that it was the biggest mistake of his life, and that he wished he could turn back the clock."
He wished there was something he could do to fix what he did, Moses said.
"He has nightmares and what happened [plays through his mind] constantly, and it feels at times that he is losing his mind. According to him, the offences to him were the most frightening experience of his life. He spoke of his regret and remorse over the loss of life and other offences."
Advocate Ken Klopper, for Johannes, referred to the various versions presented by Nigel of what had happened that day, including that his uncle had been accompanied by a gang of men who had forced him to do what he did.
Moses responded that Nigel had admitted to lying and that he had given different versions of events.
"He lied because he was afraid of the repercussions," she said, conceding that this was strange and out of the ordinary, when compared to his profile.
Klopper asked if she thought Rust had been killed because she would be able to identify her attacker. Moses agreed that this was the impression.
He said Nigel appeared to be claiming no involvement in the murder, the most serious of the offences, which could result to life imprisonment.
'I don’t have a clear answer'
Moses said she had the impression that Johannes had influenced Nigel. Nigel, however, never said he killed her.
"From my first interview with him, he took responsibility for what happened. He accepted responsibility for everything, meaning that what he did led to her death."
She said she didn’t understand his behaviour in the commission of the crime, compared to who he had been before that day. "I don’t have a clear answer."
Klopper said Johannes had claimed that they had done it together and that he had not threatened Nigel.
Nigel’s mother, Lien, had worked for Rust's daughter, as well as in Rust's home, and the author had known him since he was a little boy.
Rust had been paying for Nigel's sports activities and school fees since Grade 7. He was a regular visitor to her home and she had often helped him with his homework, even paying for a tutor when he was struggling with maths.
Nigel and Johannes were convicted in December of robbing and murdering Rust in her home in Uitsig, Wellington, on May 11, 2016.
Judge Elize Steyn found that the two accused had acted together when they committed the crime, despite Nigel's claim that he was forced by his co-accused, who is his mother's brother and who has a string of convictions to his name.