Covid-19 halts Stella murder trial

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Xander Bylsma. (PHOTO: Papi Morake)
Xander Bylsma. (PHOTO: Papi Morake)

It’s expected that the sentencing hearing of convicted Stella murderer Xander Bylsma will be postponed on Monday due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In February, Xander was found guilty in the high court in Mmabatho of the murder of two teenage girls from Stella in the North West. On 13 May, he celebrated his 21st birthday behind bars in the Rooigrond Prison in Mahikeng.

His sentencing hearing was due to start on 18 May but both his lawyers and the state prosecutor in the case confirmed to YOU it probably won’t happen then.

On 18 February, Judge Ronald Hendricks postponed Xander’s case to 18-20 May for sentencing. He’d previously found Xander guilty on two counts of murder: of his ex-girlfriend, Sharnelle Hough (17), and her best friend and Xander’s second cousin, Marna Engelbrecht (16), in the early hours of 26 May 2018.

The two girls had been strangled to death in the hostel of Hoërskool Stella. Sharnelle’s lifeless body was found hanging from the banister in the hostel, while Marna was found dead in a sitting position on the bathroom floor. She had a handbag strap around her neck.Advocate Johan Smit SC, the state prosecutor, confirmed to YOU the sentencing hearing would be postponed and that the date was yet to be determined.

Conrad Bester, Xander’s lawyer from Jan Kempdorp in the Northern Cape, also confirmed the case would probably be postponed. Together, Bester and Advocate Sakkie Nel from Kimberley in the Northern Cape are Xander’s legal representatives.

“We’ll travel to court anyway. I don’t know yet if Xander will be there. We’re still trying to organise things,” Bester says.

Bester wouldn’t reveal what arguments they’d make in mitigation of sentence. He only said the state had drawn up a pre-hearing report.Stefaans Engelbrecht, Marna’s father, told YOU they’d been informed of the latest developments. “There’s nothing we can do about it now.”

Ronnie Hough, Sharnelle’s father, said they were informed on Wednesday about the possibility of a postponement. He said he and his wife, Anna, wouldn’t be going to court on Monday. “What can you do? We can only follow the right channels so this thing can be over.”

Stefaans, who installs boreholes on farms, and Ronnie, a farmer, have both been working during lockdown.

Marna Engelbrecht, 17, and Sharnelle Hough, 16
Marna Engelbrecht, 17, and Sharnelle Hough, 16. (Photo: Supplied)

“There isn’t really such a thing as lockdown where I am,” Ronnie says. “There’s no such thing as leave on a farm. We just keep going. The cattle farmers’ animals must get drinking water and the potatoes need to be harvested.”

Xander still maintains his innocence.

*Covid-19 is keeping many of us indoors. Our shopping trips have become brief, normal activities have been halted. Many have been wondering if they’ll still get their copy of their favourite YOU magazine. And how will we find things to do while indoors?

Though YOU magazine is available in most grocery stores, you can also subscribe online with no fuss. Click here to purchase a digital copy.

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