The last time Courtney Pieters‘ mother saw her daughter, the little girl had asked for a packet of treats, the Western Cape High Court heard on Monday.
She never got it, as the three-year-old is believed to have been murdered that same day.
Juanita Pieters testified that, when her son told her that his baby sister was missing when she returned from work on May 4, 2017, she had not believed it, telling him not to talk “nonsense”.
Courtney‘s body was found more than a week after she was reported missing.
Saunders pleads guilty
Mortimer Saunders, who rented a room in the same house where Courtney lived, on Monday pleaded guilty to killing her and performing a sexual act on the corpse. His plea was rejected by the State, which wanted him tried for rape and murder.
In his plea explanation, Saunders claimed he had poisoned the child with ant poison because of “ill feelings” between him and Juanita. He had also ostensibly been irritated because Courtney had wanted to watch TV in his room and he had wanted to sleep.
Saunders claimed he had wanted to make her sick, but Courtney had initially not wanted to drink the mixture. She did when he told her to and she coughed, resulting in the poisoned water getting onto her face, hair and clothing.
He said he had hit her on the forehead, choked her and closed her mouth with a towel after people on the property started to look for her.
Saunders claimed he had realised Courtney was dead when her lips were blue and her body lifeless.
He admitted to pulling down her denim shorts and underwear and penetrating her with three fingers, and saw there “was no reaction of pain by her and no active bleeding as my fingers penetrated her”.
Saunders said he became aroused and that he had put his penis around her vagina and on her body, but denied raping her.
He put her body in a duvet and dumped her in bushes close to the factories in Epping, he said in his statement, read in court by his advocate Mornay Calitz.
Her body was found nine days later.
Courtney‘s mother testifies
Juanita, the State‘s first witness, was warned of her rights in terms of incriminating herself, relating to an offence of abuse and the deliberate neglect of a child.
She confirmed that she lived with her boyfriend, Aaron Fourie, and three of her four children, as well as Fourie‘s sister and her son in Pluto Street, Salberau in Elsies River, at the time of her daughter‘s murder.
She met Saunders about three years ago when he moved into the house, Juanita testified.
“We didn‘t like each other,” she said, explaining that Saunders constantly made trouble between her and her boyfriend.
When Fourie was under the influence, he sometimes became rude, Juanita said. Saunders knew that, and would tell him things she had said and done, resulting in arguments and fights between the two.
Saunders and Fourie had grown up together and were close, she explained.
On the day of Courtney‘s murder, Juanita said she had breastfed her baby girl and had given her porridge, before putting her back in bed with her brother, who had been ill.
She admitted that she had not asked anyone to look after Courtney that day.
The week before, a relative who lived in the backyard, had taken care of her, but the week of Courtney‘s murder, Juanita said she did not have money to pay for a child minder.
After kissing the two little ones goodbye as she left for the Hungry Lion in Parow, where she worked as a cleaner, Juanita said Courtney called out to her. She said she asked her mother to bring them party packets when she returned. Juanita had replied that she would.
She bolted the back door and left through the front, closing it behind her.
Saunders, who was on leave, and her boyfriend‘s nephew were also home at the time.
Juanita testified that, on her way home from work that evening, her son and another child had run to her, saying Courtney was missing. She said she had told him not to talk nonsense.
When she got home, the relative who had previously looked after Courtney said she had thought Juanita had taken the child to work with her.
Juanita told Judge Pearl Mantame she had gone to all her daughter‘s friends‘ homes, but hadn‘t been able find her.
She said she went to the police station to ask if anyone had brought her little girl to the station. No one had.
After telling the court that one woman had told her to go and check again, and to report Courtney missing if she didn‘t find her, Juanita started to cry.
The case was adjourned to Tuesday as a bereft and vomiting Juanita was unable to continue her testimony.