The mother of murdered Cape Town toddler Courtney Pieters broke down in the Western Cape High Court on Monday as she recalled the events of a year ago when the three-year-old went missing and was later found buried in a shallow grave.
Juanita Pieters took to the witness stand on Monday, but broke down during her testimony, and was excused from the courtroom. She was later found outside, where she had been overcome with emotion and had gotten violently ill on the court steps.
Court was adjourned until Tuesday.
Earlier, Mortimer Saunders had admitted in a statement read out before court that he had murdered three-year-old Courtney Pieters in Elsies River a year ago.
Juanita Pieters, who was not present in court to hear the statement read out by Saunders’ defence counsel, said she and Saunders had never liked each other.
“The reason for this is that he regularly caused problems between me and my boyfriend Aaron [Fourie]. When Aaron drinks, he is very rude, and when he used to be drunk, Mortimer would always tell him things I might have said about him, and then Aaron would believe him and get rude with me and fight with me,” said Pieters.
She said to her knowledge, Saunders and Fourie grew up together and were very close as friends.
Explaining what she remembered of the day Courtney went missing, Juanita said she had left the three-year-old with her seven-year-old brother and had gone to work.
“Courtney used to have someone that looked after her and that person was her cousin who lived in the backyard. She looked after Courtney for the first week which I paid her for and this was the week before Courtney went missing. The second week that I did not pay her was the week she did not look after Courtney, and that is the week she went missing,” Pieters told the court.
She said upon arriving at the house that evening, the seven-year-old son she had left Courtney with came running to her to tell her that Courtney had gone missing.
“I walked faster to get to the house, and I put down my bags and Marsha [the cousin who looked after Courtney the week before] told me she thought I had taken Courtney to work with me,” Pieters said.
She then went to the toddler’s friends’ houses and later to the police station to ask if they had a little girl who had been reported lost, but she was told by police to search again and afterwards return to report the child missing.
Earlier, Saunders said he killed the toddler after giving her ant poison to drink because of issues between himself and Courtney’s mother. Saunders had been renting a room in the same house as Courtney and her parents.
In his statement, Saunders said: “I rented a room in the home, and on 4 May of 2017 her parents left her in the care of the brother.”
He said he was also at home that day. During the course of the morning, he went to the bathroom and about 15 minutes later Courtney came to his room.
He said he told her to leave which she did, but she returned later, and “being irritated” because of issues between the mother and himself, he gave Courtney ant poison. “She started coughing and after neighbours were calling out to her looking for her she tried to scream.”
Saunders admitted he knew he could not let her be found in the state she was in, as it was clear the ant poison would not just make her sick, but would kill her. He panicked and choked her, and then wrapped a towel around her face.
“I remained in my room for about an hour after that,” he said in his statement.
Saunders further said after killing her, he used his fingers to penetrate her, and said he got aroused. However, he denied penetrating her with his penis.
On the rape charge, Saunders pleaded not guilty, while on the murder charge he pleaded guilty, but argued it was not premeditated. However, the state rejected his pleas, saying it believed the murder was premeditated.
He admitted that when her parents returned that evening, they were looking for her, and this was when the accused knew he had to dump her body.
Courtney’s body was found days later buried in a shallow grave in nearby Epping Industria.