Courtney Pieters’ mother lied about not recognising her killer in CCTV footage

Mortimer Saunders appeared in the Cape Town High Court charged with the premeditated murder and rape of 3-year-old Courtney Pieters in May 2017.
Mortimer Saunders appeared in the Cape Town High Court charged with the premeditated murder and rape of 3-year-old Courtney Pieters in May 2017.

The mother of murdered three-year-old Cape Town girl Courtney Pieters misled the police about her killer’s identity.

This emerged in the high court in Cape Town during the judgment in the trial of self-confessed killer Mortimer Saunders on Tuesday.

Judge Pearl Mantame started her judgment by evaluating the evidence of witnesses who have testified in the trial. Some of the evidence has been harrowing.

Mantame said the investigating officer‚ Captain Sean Tailor‚ testified that he showed footage obtained from CCTV cameras near the area where Courtney’s body was found in Epping to her mother‚ Juanita Pieters‚ and other neighbours. She said the footage showed Saunders “dropping something”.

Mantame said Tailor testified that Pieters claimed she did not know the person in the footage‚ only to admit later when police sniffer dogs tracked Courtney’s body fluids to Saunders’ room that she did.

“Juanita Pieters approached him and advised him that she had lied…she could see that it was the accused‚” Mantame said.

According to the judgment‚ Saunders and other residents identified another resident as the suspect but the man was released after the police interviewed him.

Tailor went on to collect DNA samples from all men living at the house to see if any of them could be linked to the crime. When the search for Courtney ensued‚ Saunders provided the police with her picture which he had stored on his cell phone.

But Tailor could not get hold of Saunders until he was arrested.

“He advised [the police] that he did not need a legal representative‚” Mantame said. “He told them he had killed the deceased‚ inserted his fingers into the deceased’s vagina after she had died.”

The gallery was packed with angry community members.

Mantame also evaluated forensic pathologist Professor Johan Demper’s evidence‚ which showed that semen had been found in the child’s vagina. However‚ Dempers‚ a senior forensic pathologist at Tygerberg Hospital‚ said that he was not certain whether the semen was deposited while the child was alive or after her death.

In his admission‚ Saunders said he killed Courtney in Elsies River with ant poison and committed necrophilia. But the state is disputing his version. It says he raped the child while she was still alive. Dempers said there were lacerations to the child’s vagina.

“The findings were that the lacerations were caused by the [insertion] of an object‚” said Mantame.

“It was stated that the laceration could have been caused by penal penetration.”

SowetanLIVE reported earlier that in his plea explanation in May‚ Saunders had said: “I unlawfully and intentionally committed a sexual act with a corpse.”

Courtney was murdered in her home in Elsies River in May‚ 2017. Saunders was a tenant in her home at the time‚ and he was also friends with Courtney’s father‚ Aaron Fourie. The little girl was in the care of her six-year-old brother.

According to Saunders‚ she irritated him by waking him up because she wanted to watch television in his room.

“Irritated for having been woken a second time‚ and compounded by ill feelings between myself and her mother‚ I decided to give her ant poison‚” Saunders said.

He had bought the poison‚ which was in powder form‚ months earlier to repel ants in his room. He mixed it with water.

“Initially she did not want to drink it‚ but on telling her to do so she did‚” he said.

The incident received wide media coverage at the time. Then-president Jacob Zuma visited the family and said he was appalled at Saunders’ act.

“That a man who stays here can rape the child‚ kill the child in the bedroom… and break every bone to make the child fit in a plastic bag… it shows something has gone wrong with society‚” said Zuma.

Courtney’s body was found nine days after her disappearance‚ with her killer leading the search party away from where she lay.

The judgment continues.

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