WATCH | 'My family died when Hannah died', her father tells court
“It is my belief that my family died when Hannah died.”
These were the words of Willem Cornelius in a heart-breaking first appearance at the trial of his daughter’s killers as sentencing procedures got underway on Thursday.
Wearing a white rose in his jacket, he told the Cape Town High Court: “My son and I are not a family, we are merely survivors after losing Hannah and her mom Anna.”
Anna drowned near Scarborough in Cape Town - less than a year after the couple’s 21-year-old daughter Hannah was raped and murdered.
“Our autistic son has a picture of Hannah and still asks every night for a year and a half, ‘When is Hannah coming home, aren’t the holidays over?’,” he testified.
Hannah’s family arrived in court with white roses. For some, it was the first time they attended the trial - on what could be the last day of a murder trial that stunned South Africa.
"Before I start, I want to apologise that I am here for the first time... I didn't want to hear what had happened," said Willem Cornelius.
Cornelius, a 21-year-old student, was found dead on a farm 20km outside of Stellenbosch on May 27 2017.
Vernon Witbooi, Geraldo Parsons and Eben van Niekerk all face possible life imprisonment after being found guilty by Judge Roshnie Allie on Wednesday for robbing‚ kidnapping‚ raping and murdering Cornelius.
They were also found guilty of the attempted murder of her friend‚ Cheslin Marsh‚ and of robbing and kidnapping of Miemie October and Ncumisa Qwina.
Throughout the trial the men laughed as they watched each other testify and gawked at witnesses and journalists.
A fourth man, Nashville Julius, was found guilty of robbery and kidnapping.
I ask the court to only apply sentencing that will prevent any other family from going through what we have gone throughFather Willem Cornelius
The first witness to take the stand in the Cape Town High Court on Thursday was Cheslin’s mother, Marilyn Marsh.
“Who does something like that to a person? My son did nothing to you,” she said, speaking directly to the convicted men in the dock.
The first thing her son had said to her when she saw him covered in blood in at Tygerberg Hospital was, “Please tell the police to go look for Hannah, they are going to hurt her.”
She stayed with her son for two weeks at the hospital due to the extent of his injuries after the attack.
“Regarding Hannah, I suspect all parents believe their children were exceptional and we were no different. She was a blessing from birth, no terrible twos, no teething [problems]. She became part of the management when her autistic brother was born,” her father, who was formerly a magistrate, told the court.
“It’s hard to describe how I feel. I was medically-boarded after the incident. I would have quit anyway. I had no doubt that I could not keep impartiality in court matters after this incident. I’m on a daily anti-depressant medication.
“My life has contracted, no joy, no hope or goals for the future. I didn’t come here today to look for sympathy. I don’t like the attention this case has garnered…
“I ask the court to only apply sentencing that will prevent any other family from going through what we have gone through,” he added.