On Tuesday, the circuit high court in Harrismith found missing three-year-old Liam Nortjé’s father guilty of murdering the boy.
The ruling comes despite the fact that Liam’s body was never found since his father abducted him two years ago.
“I’m grateful. I can’t believe it’s all over – we worked hard and started with nothing,” state prosecutor Advocate Amanda Bester, from Bloemfontein, told YOU. She’d been working non-stop to secure this murder conviction.
“Tomorrow [Wednesday], we’ll submit three impact reports and then we’ll work around loadshedding to get him sentenced on Thursday,” she adds.
Liam’s father, Nantes Nortjé (48), will hear his fate tomorrow [Thursday].
Judge Corné van Zyl ruled that Nantes had murdered Liam after kidnapping the boy in late November 2017. Nantes had visited Liam in Kestell in the Free State, drove off with the boy and later called his estranged wife, Cheinelle (42), to tell her that she’d never see their son again.
Nantes was also found guilty on two charges of aggravated assault and one of ordinary assault on Cheinelle and their two daughters. The assaults happened in the time before Liam’s disappearance.
YOU has reported on this case in the past.
Previously, Cheinelle told YOU that Nantes had left behind a scorched lock of Liam’s blond hair and a note, saying: “Good luck with your life without me and Liam.”
Despite all indications to the contrary and the court judgment, Cheinelle had been living in the hope that her son is still alive.
“I have hope every day. But he’d planned everything – even the lock of hair he left behind. He’d planned every last detail,” she told YOU shortly before Nantes’ trial started in August.
Nantes was arrested in July last year in a township in Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal. He’d maintained ever since that Liam is alive and in the care of a “childless couple”. But there’d been no evidence or information to suggest that this was true.
The extensive, non-stop police search for Liam has been fruitless. Every lead was followed, every secret phone call from prison investigated.
This had proven to be the basis of the judge’s ruling, Amanda says.
“It’s torture that won’t ever stop. We’ll always keep looking for Liam,” she adds.
She says the state’s psychiatric evaluation of Nantes also counted heavily in the prosecution’s favour.
“The psychiatrist Professor PJ Pretorius diagnosed Nantes as a psychopath and said he’s extremely manipulative. He’d done it [committed murder] to punish his estranged wife.”
She says Nantes told local media he’s “disappointed” that YOU’s sister publication, Huisgenoot, published a telephone conversation with him shortly before the trial started. Nantes had called the Huisgenoot reporter from prison in Harrismith.
During the phone conversation the reporter asked Nantes if he was willing to serve a life sentence for a “crime he didn’t commit”, given that he’d claimed Liam was still alive.
He answered without hesitation. “For my child? I’d die for my child – any of my children. I’d go to jail if it meant protecting them from all the evil [in the world]. It grieves me. I had a good wife but she made her bed, now she must sleep in it.
“What’s left? I have nothing left to lose,” he said.
Cheinelle, who’d been in court with her daughters when Nantes was found guilty, couldn’t be reached for comment.
“We’re asking for a life sentence,” Amanda says. “I can’t imagine he’ll get less than that.”