Friday, March 15, 2013

The Griekwastad Murder Trial

The court case involving the murders of Northern Cape farmer Deon Steenkamp, his wife Christelle, and daughter Marthella, commenced on Monday this week in the Northern Cape High Court in Kimberly.

Fingerprint on glass
The majority of South African readers will already be familiar with the background details of this horrific tragedy, but for the record I’ll provide the following brief outline:

The shooting tragedy happened in the late afternoon of Easter Friday, on 6 April 2012. The only survivor was the Steenkamp’s teenager-son, who was 15 years old at the time of the murders (he turned sixteen on 15 August 2012). The police informed the teenager on 15 May 2012 that he was the main suspect in the case, but he was only officially arrested, at his school in Bloemfontein, much later on 21 August 2012. Due to his age he may not be identified, but thanks to Naspers and their tendency to be overly hasty with sensational news most people already knows who the child is.

Section 28 of South Africa’s (worthless) constitution defines a child as a person below the age of 18, and enshrines certain rights to juvenile justice.

The teenager alleged that he was not in their home at the time of the shooting, but in a barn a few yards away from their house. He also claimed - he heard the gunshots and thought it was a farm attack. He found his parents dead in the house and claimed that his sister died in his arms. He then drove a vehicle to the police station in the nearby town of Griekwastad, alerting farm workers on his way that there was a farm attack. He also claims that he found two firearms at the farm gate, picked them up and drove off.

I suspect - the reason why there was such a long delay in arresting the teenager, may most likely be because there was initially no clear motive for the killings. An Afrikaans Rapport headline-article, dated 5 August 2012, made a rather audacious attempt at providing a motive, for the entire nation to see, when they published a front-page story titled, “Don erf alles” - (English: "Don inherits everything"). Click here to see a scanned copy of the front-page, or click here to read the relevant posting on this blog.

A Weird Coincidence!
The same front-page of Rapport also featured a picture of Oscar Pistorius, the South African amputee athlete who has now been accused of killing his girlfriend, Reeve Steenkamp, who coincidentally shares the same surname as the victims of the Griekwastad tragedy… Weird???

The media reports concerning this tragedy are truly frustrating, especially when journalists make wild assumptions, or when they try influencing people's perceptions. Another example of this phenomenon, which was obviously made for purposes of sensationalism, is the route allegedly taken by the accused when he travelled to the police station. Several Naspers reports have stressed the fact that the kid took the long way round. However, a quick look at Google Maps reveals that it was in fact the shortest route, as it leads directly north in the direction of Griekwastad. Bear in mind that the kid used a vehicle (bakkie) that could handle bad roads at higher speeds than the average car, and that he also wanted to warn farm workers along the way - so he says.

Click here to view a graphic presentation of the scene by Theuns Kruger from Graphics24. Note the remarks on the left at point #6. Click here to see a bird’s-eye view of the Naauwhoek farm on Google Maps, and decide for yourself which route is shorter. It will also be most interesting to see what conclusions the court will make in this regard.

Farm House - Griekwastad
The farmhouse where the murders took place
Photo Copyright: Mary-Ann Palmer

The juvenile-accused pleaded not guilty to all charges at commencement of the criminal trial this week. The charges include:
  • Three charges of murder
  • A charge of defeating the ends of justice - for allegedly misleading police by making a false statement
  • A charge of rape -- (Possible Motive?)
The two last-mentioned charges were added to the charge sheet on 18 February 2013.

Explanation of Plea
At the time of pleading the boy's lawyer, Willem Coetzee, submitted - there was no plea explanation. The procedure “Explanation of Plea” (Afr.: “Pleitverduideliking”) relates basically to a voluntary procedure which aims to eliminate unnecessary evidence by establishing exactly what the accused wishes to place in dispute by his plea of not guilty. (S v Seleke 1980(3) SA 745 (A) at 753G)  The procedure was introduced into the criminal trial process following upon proposals made by Hiemstra. It is now well entrenched in our criminal trial process, and has several time-saving advantages. However, it can only take place with the consent of the accused.

In the Griekwastad case the accused is not saying anything, unlike Oscar Pistorius who submitted a detailed Sworn Affidavit for the entire world to see, very early in the proceedings.

According to the new charge sheet the State’s list of witnesses has grown from 76 to 91. These witnesses include family members, neighbours, friends, business associates, farm labourers, pathologists, doctors, psychologists, various policemen involved in the examination, including crime scene specialists and State forensic analysts -- specialized in various scientific fields of expertise, such as: ballistics, biology, and chemistry, for example. Click here to read more about the various specialized units in the Forensic Science Laboratory.


Motive - Rape?
The State alleges - Marthella was first raped before she was killed with her parents on the fateful day, and that the dreadful deed provides a possible motive for the murders. However, the media reported earlier that there was speculation over whether surface bruises to the girl’s genitals could be the result of horse riding or due to a possible struggle. According to Rapport, who cited a forensic expert on the matter, no semen or DNA linking the accused was found in Marthella. The expert reckons Marthella’s injuries were about 24 hours old and are typical of injuries that could have been caused by someone who attempted forceful sexual penetration without her consent. See earlier news reports on and Rapport for further details. The chances are thus extremely slim that the accused will be found guilty on this charge.

Although it may be somewhat early to deliver weighty opinions regarding the guilt of the accused at this point in time as the trial is nowhere near complete yet and the REAL experts must still testify, there are a few related aspects that can comfortably be reflected upon.

If I may compare this trial to a boxing match then it is safe to declare that the defence has won the first round. This is based purely on the dilemma the State now has with the mysterious single fingerprint lifted from a drinking glass found lying near the back door of the farmhouse. If the police cannot find who this fingerprint belongs to then the only logical assumption to be made is that an unidentified person was on the scene, thereby validating the accused’s version of a possible farm attack. Bear in mind that the State has a duty to prove the guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt.

My guess is that the fingerprint in all probability belongs to a person who wasn't thinking straight and who was present on the crime scene immediately after the killings took place, but the possibility also exists that the glass had been lying there long before the murders occurred. If the State is serious about this case, the police will thus have to follow-up quickly on this unexplained piece of evidence.

Crime Scene Investigation - Methods and Procedures
Then there are the other dilemmas created by the incompetence of State witness Lieutenant Andre McAnda, a Forensic Field Worker who made some serious bungles while collecting evidence on the crime scene. His excuse that he is only human and that his errors were due to long working hours and trauma experienced at crime scenes is totally unacceptable. It does, however, portray the current chaotic state of the police force AND the entire country, which has been slipping into a state of absolute turmoil for quite some time now… Absolute National Chaos (ANC), I tell you!

It is my guess that forensic evidence related to blood, blood-splatter, and ballistic related phenomenon are going to play a crucial role in this case.  Aspects concerning forensic ballistics, as it relates to this specific case, were already dealt with in two older updates, namely: Part 2 and Part 3. Part 3 deals with the finer aspects of Forensic Ballistics, including the Primary Residue Test.

Although it is interesting to note that the Primary Residue Test was done on the boy on the same day of the shooting, a positive outcome is unfortunately going to prove nothing in this case. By his own admission the boy handled the two firearms when he picked them up at the farm gate. The real value of the Primer Residue test is that it can associate an individual with a firearm. However, it cannot identify a specific person as the definite shooter, because a person can pick up the residue simply by handling a dirty weapon or discharged ammunition components. - (Source: Gunshot Primer Residue – The Invisible Clue)

Why do kids kill their parents?
The trial will continue on Monday, 18 March. The court will also be holding an Inspection In Loco on the crime scene on Monday. We will no doubt be reading all about it in the news next week, first thing on Tuesday morning.

Updates about the case can be read on the exclusive dedicated pages of News24 and Volksblad.

Previous posts related to the Griekwastad tragedy:
(Listed from the latest to the oldest)


whiteson said... .....Click here to refresh this blog

It was high time for your update on this case Tia. But anyway , thank you. As the case goes on, you must please keep us in the know. Your version says more than any other paper ever can.

Tia Mysoa said... .....Click here to refresh this blog

Hier is die YouTube skakel na Volksblad se kort video van Maandag se ter plaatse besoek aan die moordtoneel:

Tia Mysoa said... .....Click here to refresh this blog

Nog 'n kort video - Griekwastad: Binne die moordhuis (Die Burger)

Tia Mysoa said... .....Click here to refresh this blog

The trial of the minor accused of the Griekwastad triple murder has been postponed to September in the Northern Cape High Court. Lead investigator Dirk de Waal completed his testimony this afternoon. Defence advocate Willem Coetzee did not want to commence with his cross examination as he could not foresee completing it by tomorrow afternoon.

Media warned at Griekwastad trial
Members of the media covering the 2012 Griekwastad farm murder trial were warned on Wednesday to avoid speaking to witnesses or the family of the victims.

Tia Mysoa said... .....Click here to refresh this blog

Griekwastad teen to inherit R23m

Tia Mysoa said... .....Click here to refresh this blog

Case postponed (again)

Northern Cape Judge President Frans Kgomo postponed the matter to 21 October without disclosing reasons. Additional postponement dates were also set for November and December this year, which is already an indication that the matter is probably going to drag on until the end of the year.

Apparently the defence requested the postponement (money issues???). Click here for News24 report

Tia Mysoa said... .....Click here to refresh this blog


AWB behind Griekwastad murders - claim

Griekwastad: Verregse boer sê sy is glo betrokke

Tia Mysoa said... .....Click here to refresh this blog

Latest post: 'Hostile Media' Exploits Griekwastad Tragedy, AGAIN!

Peter Joseph said... .....Click here to refresh this blog

Pleases give us your take on court proceedings.

Tia Mysoa said... .....Click here to refresh this blog

@Peter Joseph (and other visitors)

I have no option but to rely exclusively on media reports when delivering an opinion on this matter. However, it is most frustrating to read the many conflicting reports especially when it comes to the interpretation and analysis of expert testimony, for example, the outcome of DNA tests on the two firearms, the exact placement of the various gunshot wounds and other injuries to the victims, the various type of blood-splatter found on various items, etc. … Was the blood-splatter caused by a blunt object or was it perhaps a type of high-speed blood spatter, known as “backspatter” or “blowback” which is sometimes detected on the exterior of the firearm, or (as in this case) on the shooter’s clothing? “Backspatter” or “blowback” only occurs when a gun is fired in extremely close range to a victim.

See in this regard two older postings on this blog:
Update Part 2
Update Part 3

For what it’s worth though – I think the only solid evidence the State has so far is the evidence of blood-splatter on the accused’s T-shirt... That is IF it is high-speed blood spatter as described above. Afrikaans media reports are calling it ‘impak-spatsels’.

The dilemma with the ‘unknown’, fingerprint has apparently been solved: Mysterious Griekwastad print solved.

The following was reported today in Rapport:
Griekwastadmoorde: Seun se 5 ‘leuens’

Now that the State has closed their case let’s wait and see what the defence team are going to achieve.

BTW: The media is already reporting that the case will be postponed for some time before the Judge delivers the final verdict. How long? I don’t know… Sigh!!!

Peter Joseph said... .....Click here to refresh this blog
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said... .....Click here to refresh this blog

This is such a sad and complex case. Im a South African living abroad and its always devastating to come across this kind of thing. Thanks Tia for an accurate report. Lets hope justice is served and that the kid gets the help he needs.

Tia Mysoa said... .....Click here to refresh this blog

@Anon (2:55 PM) - It’s only a pleasure. Thanks for popping in! It is indeed a sad and complex case. You can follow the latest commentary on this blog here.

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