Hannah’s friend 'relieved' as killers found guilty
Nobody should walk freely after what they did, says Cheslin Marsh, who finally wears a smile in court
Cheslin Marsh smiled as he walked out of the Cape Town High Court on Wednesday.
A few weeks ago, he feared facing the gang he had to testify against in court. But on Wednesday, the court found his assailants guilty of 10 charges, including the murder of his friend, Hannah Cornelius, and his, Marsh’s attempted murder.
“I feel a bit relieved that it’s sort of over. Without the help of my family and Hanna’s family and people supporting me I don’t think it would have been possible,” he told Times Select.
His testimony as a surviving witness to the brutality of Vernon Witbooi, Geraldo Parsons, Eben Van Niekerk and Nashville Julius was critical in their convictions.
But it was clear from his heart-wrenching testimony and physical scars, which were visible on his head as he turned away from the staring eyes of his attackers in the dock, that what most SA families would consider their worst fear became a reality for him. Asked if what had happened to him sometimes felt unreal, he replied: “It’s always been a reality for me. I’ve never thought that life's a dream or a fairy tale, it’s always been a reality for me.”
Witbooi and Parsons gave shy smiles after the judgment, telling Times Select they were “sorry” for what they did, “but, ja, it’s a bit late now”.
Throughout the trial the men laughed as they watched each other testify and gawked at witnesses and journalists.
They also used their testimonies to pin their involvement in the crimes on each other, but in the end Judge Rosheni Allie found that they acted in common purpose and that each had their role to play in the attack on four people on Friday May 27 2017.
On that night the four men were stalking the streets of Stellenbosch looking for victims to rob. “It was part of life,” said Parsons in his testimony.
They found Stellenbosch students Cornelius and Marsh sitting in her blue VW Golf, which she had inherited from her grandmother.
They attacked them using a knife and screwdriver, but Rosheni said their presence and numbers alone were enough to scare Marsh and Cornelius into submission.
After robbing and helping to kidnap them, Julius left the scene. He was found guilty on two counts of robbery with aggravating circumstances and two counts of kidnapping.
The other three men continued to drive to Kraaifontein with Marsh in the boot and Hannah in the front of the car and attempted to draw money from Marsh’s bank cards.
When this failed because he gave them the wrong pin, they took half bricks and stoned him over his head, leaving him to die in an empty veld.
They then continued to rape Cornelius before stabbing her in the neck and crushing her head with a large rock.
However, their crime spree was not over.
Witbooi, Parsons and Van Niekerk were also found guilty of robbing and kidnapping Miemie October later that morning, and also of robbing Ncumisa Qwina.
But there was a sense that so much pain could have been prevented had the men been properly dealt with by the criminal justice system over a series of crimes they committed throughout their lives.
The prosecutor, advocate Lenro Badenhorst, read out Witbooi’s criminal history, which started with a conviction for theft in 1997 when he was nine years old. Between then and 2000 he was convicted seven times on numerous counts, including house robbery, break-ins, and escape from prison.
The rest of the criminal histories for the remaining men are expecting to be heard in court on Thursday when sentencing proceedings will continue.
Cornelius’s family is also expected to be in the gallery when the state will argue for aggravation of sentence.
“I feel happy because no person can walk freely after they assaulted someone and hurt people like that,” said Marsh, who lost hearing in one ear after the attack.
A crowdfunding campaign, run by the Hannah Cornelius Foundation, to restore his hearing and assist him with his future studies had already reached R20,000 by Wednesday morning. Hearing aides and specialist medical help were also pledged.
“I have big plans for my future. I haven’t decided what I want to study yet, but when I do I’ll let people know,” he said with a smile.