‘My family died when Hannah died’
Heartbroken dad and former magistrate steps into court for the first time in the Cornelius murder trial
His tattoos betray his lack of respect for women.
Geraldo Parsons, one of the men convicted of killing University of Stellenbosch student Hannah Cornelius, has a baboon shaped like a woman’s body etched on his back, legs wide open. He also has a 28s gang symbol on his chest, and another tattoo that reads: “F***k the police.”
Then there are two other, perhaps even creepier, tattoos. One reads: “Hungry for money,” and another: “Hungry for blood.”
On Thursday, in aggravation of sentence, prosecutor Lenro Badenhorst said Parsons’s tattoos summed up his worldview.
“[Parsons’] gang association is evident,” said Badenhorst. “This is what [he] stands for when it comes to police. [He] has no respect for women. A woman is an object to satisfy their sexual pleasure.”
This week the Cape Town High Court convicted Parsons, Vernon Witbooi, Eben van Niekerk of robbing, kidnapping, raping and killing Cornelius in May last year. They were also found guilty of the attempted murder of her friend, Cheslin Marsh, and of robbing and kidnapping Miemie October and Ncumisa Qwina.
Co-accused Nashville Julius was convicted of robbery and kidnapping Marsh and Cornelius. Badenhorst urged the court to mete out a harsh sentence.
Cornelius’s father, Willem Cornelius, fondly remembered his daughter when he testified on Thursday about the effect her murder had on his family.
“It is my belief that my family died when Hannah died.”
Wearing a white rose in his jacket, he said: “My son and I are not a family, we are merely survivors after losing Hannah and her mom Anna.”
Anna drowned near Scarborough in Cape Town – less than a year after the couple’s 21-year-old daughter Hannah was raped and murdered.
“Our autistic son has a picture of Hannah and still asks every night for a year and a half: ‘When is Hannah coming home, aren’t the holidays over?’” he testified.
Hannah’s family arrived in court with white roses. For some, it was the first time they attended the trial.
“Before I start, I want to apologise that I am here for the first time ... I didn't want to hear what had happened,” said Willem.
He spoke about what a special person Hannah was.
“After the birth of our autistic son she became, in a sense, part of management with a share of duties and a say in decisions,” Willem said.
“Her teenage years were no different. We never experienced the drama and difficulties that some of our friends seemed to have. Hannah excelled at school, was a gifted pianist, made friends easily and was liked by almost everyone she met. I recall an incident in her early teens when she gravely informed us that she did not want to attend our church any more as it did apparently not make provision for her Muslim friends to go to heaven.”
Willem, a former magistrate, said her death had devastated his family. “The effect of Hannah’s death on our family was beyond devastating,” he said. “Perhaps partially due to our son, we were closer to each other than is sometimes the case. Hannah, in particular, was fiercely protective of her brother. My wife, in addition to being my friend, was the strongest and most competent person I’ve ever met.
“She became a shadow of herself, inconsolable, frantic, almost manic in everything she did, outwardly still in control, but with no substance underneath the façade. She turned her back on a successful practice and ploughed every bit of energy she had into the foundation with no regard for her health and or any practicalities.”
He said he did not believe his wife had ended her own life.
“No one really knows what happened on that early morning when she decided to go swimming in the ice cold and stormy Atlantic Ocean. For myself, I don’t believe that she committed suicide ... but what I do believe is that she did not have the physical or mental strength left to counter any difficulties that she may have experienced.”
Willem said if he died, his son Andries would be “alone and institutionalised”.
“As for myself, I find it difficult to express exactly what I feel,” Willem said. “I was medically boarded well short of normal retirement age, and I am sure that had certain financial implications that I have not really considered yet. Even without medical discharge, I would have resigned as I doubt that I could have retained the impartiality required of a judicial officer.”
Judge Rosheni Allie will sentence the men on Monday.
Willem said: “I am also well aware of the constraints placed on the court in imposing sentence, but I fervently hope that the court will consider a sentence that will at the very least prevent other parents from going through what we have gone through, at least as far as the accused in this matter [are] concerned.”