The mother of murdered Cape Town toddler Courtney Pieters told the Western Cape High Court on Tuesday that she recognised the man who was seen on CCTV footage dumping the body of her daughter, but admitted she denied knowing him, as she had been in “shock”.
Testifying in his murder trial, Mortimer Saunders, in a statement that was read out before court on Monday, admitted to murdering three-year-old Courtney Pieters in Elsies River a year ago.
Juanita Pieters said when she was asked by police if she knew the man who could be seen in footage dumping the little girl’s body in nearby Epping, she lied, saying she did not recognise him.
She told the court that police had called Saunders to come to the police station and that by this stage, she and her boyfriend, Aaron Fourie, who is also Courtney’s father, had already seen the footage of Saunders.
“I was very shocked to see these photos, and I lied to Captain Taylor and said I don’t know this man,” Pieters said on Tuesday. “I could not believe it was Mortimer because, as we know, he is such a decent person, and I did not expect it.”
On Monday, Pieters had told the court that Fourie and Saunders had grown up together and were very good friends, but that she and Saunders did not get on very well.
On Tuesday, she recalled the days after May 4 when Courtney was reported missing, saying she and members of the Elsies River community had searched neighbouring areas such as Goodwood and Ruyterwacht.
“I am not sure where Mortimer was when we were searching,” she said. “I am not sure if he joined the search or not.”
Pieters said she was at home on May 13 when the toddler’s body was found, and she and Fourie were fetched to go to the police station.
“We got there, and a policeman came to say a body was found, but the parents couldn’t go.”
On Sunday (May 14), the day after the body was found, Pieters and Fourie were once again fetched by Captain Taylor, this time for DNA samples.
“We got there, and Captain Taylor asked that we call Mortimer to come to the police station,” she said.
Pieters said she did so, and Saunders asked her: “What do they say? Who is it?”
She said she told him not to worry and that he should just come, as they would talk when he gets to the police station. At this point, Pieters and Fourie had already seen footage of Saunders dumping the toddler’s body, and she said she could not believe it, and as a result of shock, she told Captain Taylor she did not know the man in the footage.
“He [Saunders] was a very silent person, and Mortimer loved Courtney very much.”
On Monday, 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, Courtney had come to his room, and he had 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 admitted to necrophilia, but denied raping Courtney Pieters.
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 he knew he had to dump her body.
Courtney’s body was found days later buried in a shallow grave in nearby Epping Industria.