Men who gang raped and murdered student Hannah Cornelius, 21, jailed
Three career criminals who gang-raped and murdered student Hannah Cornelius have been jailed for life for the "crudest and cruelest form of violence".
Killers Eben van Niekerk, Geraldo Parsons and Vernon Witbooi abducted Hannah, 21, and a friend before raping her, stabbing her in the neck and crushing her skull with a large rock.
They left her body in the middle of a road in Stellenbosch, South Africa, on May 27 last year shortly after they had battered her friend, Cheslin Marsh, with bricks and left him for dead.
The killers, who denied murder but were convicted after a trial at Western Cape Court earlier this month, were sentenced to life in prison on Monday afternoon.
Supporters of Hannah’s family cheered, applauded and taunted the murderers as they were led out of court.
The trial heard that Hannah had pleaded with her kidnappers, saying they could sexually assault her as she begged them to spare her life.
The Stellenbosch University student’s death preceded a series of tragedies for her family. Both her mother and her grandmother died within 10 months of her murder.
Van Niekerk, 28, Parsons, 27, and Witbooi, 33, were found guilty of robbery, kidnap, rape and murder.
A fourth defendant, Nashville Julius, 29, was found guilty of robbery and kidnap. He left before Cheslin, 22, was beaten and she was murdered.
Sentencing, Judge Rosheni Allie said the killers wanted to take full advantage of Hannah and the rape violated her "privacy, dignity and humanity".
The judge delivered a scathing statement to the men, saying none of them has shown true remorse for Hannah’s violent end, News24 journalist Tammy Peterson reported.
Judge Allie called the rape and murder the "crudest and cruellest form of violence".
Van Niekerk, Parsons and Witbooi were jailed for life for the rape and murder of Hannah. Their sentences for the attempted murder of Cheslin totalled 70 years.
They also received jail time for the robbery and kidnapping of the two students, and for the kidnap and robbery of another woman.
Julius was jailed for 15 years for robbing Hannah and Cheslin, and seven years for their kidnapping. His sentences will run concurrently.
CCTV showed Hannah’s Volkswagen Citi Golf pulling into a grass patch near shops just after 3.20am on May 27, 2017, as she prepared to drop off Cheslin after a night out.
They sat and talked but about five minutes later the the assailants – armed with a screwdriver and knife – spotted the car and approached the pair.
Hannah was threatened with a screwdriver against her chest and shoved between the seats, while Cheslin was forced into the back seat.
They robbed Hannah of her purse and mobile phone, and Cheslin of his phone, wallet, backpack and earrings.
Julius left after the robbery but the three others drove around with Hannah and Cheslin held captive in the car during the killers’ 11-hour "hell ride", in which three other random victims were terrorised.
CCTV from a petrol station outside of Stellenbosch, near Cape Town, is believed to be the last time Hannah was seen alive.
Recorded at 4.34am, it shows the young woman, wearing a cream-coloured jacket, in the front passenger seat. By then, Cheslin had been forced into the car’s boot.
In the footage, Witbooi gets out of the car and enters the station, where he tries to withdraw money from Cheslin’s bank account using a cash machine.
The attempt is unsuccessful, however, because Cheslin gave the men the wrong PIN.
Between 5.30am and 6am, the group drove to Kraaifontein, where Cheslin was forced out of the car and brutally beaten with bricks for giving them the wrong PIN.
Hannah was terrified and asked van Niekerk, Parsons and Witbooi what they were planning to do.
The men berated Cheslin for giving them the wrong PIN and ordered him to lay down and put his head on a brick.
Cheslin told investigators that he remembered seeing two men holding bricks in their hands, then closed his eyes and prayed as he was knocked unconscious and left for dead.
After driving off and leaving Cheslin in a pool of blood, the men took Hannah to a secluded paintball range where she was raped repeatedly.
They forced her into the car’s boot and drove about 12 miles from Stellenbosch to a farm road next to a stream and a vineyard, where they stopped and dragged her out of the vehicle.
Hannah was stabbed in the neck and a large rock was dropped on her head as she lay face down, crushing her skull. Her killers left her body there and drove off in her car.
At some point before the rape and murder – which happened around 6am to 7.30am – another man, referred to as "Kaffertjie", gave the trio drugs. "Kaffertjie" was never arrested.
Parsons told the court during the trial that the group believed they had killed Cheslin, and he admitted being the first to rape Hannah.
He claimed the men planned to leave her on a farm, but she had struggled.
He claimed to have pleaded with Witbooi not to kill her, but she was hit twice over the head, with experts saying she died instantly.
Cheslin, who suffered horrific injuries and extreme trauma, did not regain consciousness until the day after the attack that left him in need of a hearing aid. He was forced to give up his studies.
His mother Marilyn Marsh told the court that she was thankful to God that he wasn’t killed in the unprovoked attack.
After killing Hannah, the men used her car to go on a robbery spree, attacking at least three women before van Niekerk was dropped off. He took steps to avoid leaving his DNA at the scene of the rape, and burnt his bloodstained clothes after the attack.
One of the other victims was abducted and taken to a petrol station, where money was withdrawn from her bank account, before she was released.
Parsons and Witbooi were arrested at about 2.15 pm – 11 hours after the carjacking – following a police chase. Van Niekerk and Julius were arrested later.
Tragically Hannah’s mum Anna was found dead by beachgoers in Scarborough, Cape Town, in March this year, less than a year after her daughter was killed.
Hannah’s heartbroken dad, Willem, had previously recounted how the student’s 56-year-old mother drowned after becoming "a shadow of herself" following the murder.
Mrs Cornelius had given up her law practice after their "remarkable" daughter’s death.
Mr Cornelius said: "I do not 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."
He added: "She became a shadow of herself… frantic, almost manic in everything she did.
"Outwardly still in control but inside she had very little to give – there was very little substance."
He said his autistic son was unaware for some time of Hannah’s death.
Struggling to hold back the tears, the former magistrate added: "I believe our family died with (Hannah).
"All parents believe their children are exceptional. We were no different.
"She said she wanted to do something that would help people."
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