/ 10 September 2009

Sword killer Harmse sentenced to 20 years in jail

Morne Harmse was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment by the high court in Johannesburg on Thursday for killing a schoolboy with a sword.

After the sentence was handed down by Judge Phillip Hattingh, the victim’s mother, Adele Bekker, said the prison term was not enough.

”It’s not enough. I would like him to get a life sentence,” she told reporters as her hands shook uncontrollably.

Hattingh sentenced Harmse to 18 years for the murder of Bekker’s son, Jacques Pretorius, aged 16 at the time of his death.

Harmse, who was aged 18 at the time of the crime, had pleaded guilty to hacking Pretorius to death on their school grounds last August.

He also injured three people with his sword at Nic Diederichs Technical High School in Krugersdorp, west of Johannesburg.

Hattingh gave Harmse eight years in connection with the slashing of schoolboy Stephanus Bouwer — who was wounded in the leg and head — ordering that six years of these run concurrently with the 18-year sentence.

He was given five years each for the attacks on school employees Lesiba Samuel Manamela and Tsiamo Joseph Kodisang.

The judge also recommended that Harmse be given psychiatric counselling and rehabilitation during his prison term.

Asked to stand for his sentence, Harmse, dressed in a blue striped jersey and cream collar top, was impassive as he was given two decades of jail time.

In sentencing, Hattingh said he accepted social-worker reports that Harmse was ”immature” and that therefore, although he was 18 and legally an adult at the time of the attack, the minimum of a life sentence for murder did not apply because of his juvenile psychological disposition.

Pretorius’s grandmother and aunt were also in court.

Pretorius’s school friends, who laughed among selves before proceedings began, were also present, as was Bouwer, who at times intently watched Harmse’s parents’ emotional reaction to the sentencing.

Hattingh said Harmse had grown up in an ”unstable” home environment. He was especially scared of his father who used to beat him.

”He [Morne] would become angry and emotional [when beaten] and he wanted to bash his father’s head into something. He never acted on his feelings because his dad was bigger and stronger,” said Hattingh, citing psychologist Franco Visser’s report on Harmse.

He also cited Visser’s observation that Harmse ”comes across as still being an immature individual, albeit of 19 years”, whose ”character might still be in development”.

”There are compelling circumstances that the application of a life sentence [for a count of murder] does not apply,” he said.

However, Hattingh said the seriousness of the crime needed a punishment that fits.

”The sentence which is given must balance between the interests of the community, the victim and the convicted.”

At several times during the proceedings, Harmse’s mother, Liza, placed her hand in front of her mouth to suppress audible gasping tears.

His father, Machiel, constantly blinked away tears, especially when the judge mentioned the violent relationship Harmse had with him.

Liza, dressed in a peach outfit, broke down in tears when Harmse was sentenced.

After court adjourned, Harmse turned to his parents sitting one row above him. His father placed his hand on him as they spoke amid a frenzy of media cameras.

Speaking to journalists after court, Pretorius’s mother, dressed in a cream and blue puffed jacket, said the family had wanted a ”life sentence and more”.

”I can’t accept he just gets so little time” Bekker said, standing with Pretorius’s aunt, Leonie Pretorius, and his tearful grandmother.

Speaking about Hattingh’s comments on Harmse’s violent upbringing, Leonie Pretorius said many children grew up in circumstances like that but did not turn to crime.

”It’s a lot of children who come from a bad home who don’t do things like that.”

She said the sentencing felt like ”we are burying Jacques today”.

Bekker said she had no sympathy for Harmse. ”I won’t forgive him now, it will take a long time for me to forgive him.”

Asked about how the family would move on from now, she said: ”We will see what happens. Maybe we can go on. It will take time.”

Asked how the family felt about Harmse’s parents’ plight, Leonie Pretorius said: ”At the end of the day everyone has their own choices …

”They didn’t foresee what he was going to be. I actually feel sorry for them.” — Sapa