The man who murdered Cape Town toddler Courtney Pieters apologised to her mother for what he had done, the Western Cape High Court heard on Tuesday.
Mortimer Saunders at the end of his defence counsel’s questions to Juanita Pieters, the mother of murdered three-year-old Courtney Pieters, asked that his counsel tell her that he is sorry for what he had done to her child.
Pieters, after a long pause, and looking right at Saunders, said: “I have forgiven Mortimer but I will never forget.”
On Monday, Saunders had admitted to killing the toddler after giving the child ant poison.
Explaining the presence of the ant poison, Saunders’ defence counsel said the accused did everything in his room and even used it as a kitchen and cooked.
However, Pieters replied: “There was never ant problems in the house. The only problems we had were with cockroaches.”
Pieters earlier told the court that she recognised Saunders as the man who was seen on CCTV footage dumping the body of her daughter,k but admitted she denied knowing him as she was in “shock”.
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 Industria she lied and said 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 the 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 will 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, because of the shock, told Captain Taylor that she did not know the man in the footage.
“He [Saunders] was a very silent person and Mortimer loved Courtney very much.”
Pieters further testified that Saunders had a lock on the outside of his bedroom door, but that she had been in his room a few times when he needed her to put in electricity in the meter or when she had to do his washing.
Asked why she would do such things for Saunders when she had stated that the two of them had had problems, she replied: “We did not like each other but when he requested that I do something for him I did it because he paid me to do it.”
She said Saunders interacted with both her seven-year-old son and Courtney. When asked about Courtney going into Saunders’ room, Juanita said: “As far as I know she went into his room a lot but not alone. She would always go in there with her friends, cousins and even his daughter who always used to play with Courtney.”
On Monday, Saunders admitted to killing the toddler after giving her ant poison to drink. Saunders panicked after hearing neighbours calling her and choked her, and then wrapped a towel around her face. He further said that 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.
Courtney’s body was found days later buried in a shallow grave in nearby Epping Industria.