‘I’m sorry for what I did,’ says Hannah accused
A letter in primary school-level Afrikaans begs for forgiveness, but he says he wrote it to help his case
A few days after he was arrested and accused of the robbery, rape and murder of Hannah Cornelius, Eben van Niekerk wrote a letter to her parents saying sorry for what he did to their daughter.
But that letter would never reach them, and on Tuesday Van Niekerk told the Cape Town High Court he only wrote it because he thought it would help his case.
The letter was written in primary school-level Afrikaans, with the 28-year-old testifying that he only completed school up to Standard 5 (now Grade 7).
The letter was written in the cells of the Stellenbosch police station on May 31 after Detective Sergeant Clifton Adams gave him a pen and paper.
Times Select is publishing the letter, complete with errors.
Directly translated, it reads: “This letter comes from Eben V.N.K. With this I write the letter to Henna’s mommy and daddy. I am sorry for what I did. I ask if you can forgive me for what I did. I wanted to help but I can’t because the way it was would have seen it. The girl was like a friend to me but the other accused I was also scared of and it wasn’t nice to see it and I was also afraid of them. Don’t be angry at me please.”
The letter ended with his circular signature, which vaguely resembles the “@” symbol.
Van Niekerk testified in a trial within a trial on Tuesday, where the court was deciding whether to have the letter admitted as evidence.
On the day he wrote the letter, detectives were transporting him back from hospital, where doctors examined him and extracted DNS and DNA evidence. They also took his clothing as evidence.
He testified that during the ride back to the Stellenbosch police station, Adams, one of the detectives who transported him, said they would be taking him to Pollsmoor Prison.
By this time he had already allegedly been briefed by the head of Stellenbosch detectives, Colonel Deon Beneke, on the charges against him.
But in court on Tuesday he claimed he did not know what crime he was being charged with before he was asked to write the letter. He also claimed that he never bothered to find out why DNA and clothing was taken from him and for which crime he was arrested.
Last week, Cloetesville sergeant Zane van Graan testified that he arrested Van Niekerk on a warrant after he found him hiding in his home between his mattress and his bed. Van Niekerk claims Adams told him to write a letter apologising for what he had done and that the crime he was accused of committing was a “heavy case”.
“I thought it would make my case lighter,” he told the court in an attempt to prove that the letter was not a confession nor an admission of guilt.
But prosecutor advocate Lenro Badenhorst did not buy his version, which contradicted the versions of the two detectives who transported him back to Stellenbosch.
“How did you feel when the police accused you, such an innocent man, of such heinous crimes?” asked Badenhorst.
The eyes of the two other men accused of raping and murdering Cornelius, Vernon Witbooi and Geraldo Parsons, were fixed on Badenhorst during his questioning, and they laughed at the expense of their co-accused when the question was asked.
“I felt bad,” said Van Niekerk.
Badenhorst asked him why he would write a letter apologising to the parents of a person he claimed he did not rape, rob or murder.
Van Niekerk responded that he did it because because he “just wanted to get rid of the letter” and he signed it because the detective asked him to sign it.
Ultimately, the letter was accepted as an exhibit.
The state closed its case against the four accused in the matter.
It continues on Wednesday, when the second accused, Parsons, is expected to testify.