Home News Teen murder accused had ‘mental disorder’

Teen murder accused had ‘mental disorder’

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As a result of a severe mental disease or defect, the wrongfulness of his actions and therefore had diminished criminal capacity

Picture: Soraya Crowie

A 19-YEAR-old teenager, accused of murdering his father’s girlfriend by shooting her several times with a .22 rifle on a farm outside Prieska, has pleaded not guilty on the grounds that at the time of the incident he was suffering from a mental illness.

The teenager, Cornelius Frans Vermeulen (pictured), from the farm Jonkerwater, outside Prieska, is facing a charge of murdering Serifa Abygail Jennifer Brown, who was in a relationship and living with his father.

The incident happened on Saturday, May 21, 2016 and at the time Vermeulen was 17 years old.

In his plea explanation, which was presented in the Northern Cape High Court yesterday, Vermeulen said that at the time of committing the offence he did not know, as a result of a severe mental disease or defect, the wrongfulness of his actions and therefore had diminished criminal capacity.

The basis of his argument is contained in a report from a clinical psychologist, Lenmarie Stanton, who evaluated Vermeulen on the request of his defence team.

His lawyer, Ferdi van Heerden, also disputed the findings of the State-appointed psychiatrists, Dr Piotrowski and Dr Sietshiro, from West End Hospital.

While the State indicated that it was ready to call its first witness yesterday morning, Van Heerden questioned the procedure followed by the State when referring Vermeulen for psychiatric evaluation, pointing out that nowhere in the court documents could he find the warrant for the referral of his client for psychiatric evaluation.

He also added that because the defence had disputed the report of Dr Piotrowski and Dr Sietshiro, the issue of Vermeulen’s mental capacity at the time of the incident first needed to be addressed before the case could continue.

Van Heerden further questioned why the State had only used two psychiatrists as opposed to three.

According to the report drawn up by clinical psychologist Stanton, at the time of committing the offence the accused did not know, as a result of a severe mental disease or defect, the wrongfulness of his actions and therefore he has diminished criminal capacity.

“At the time of the incident he had a mental disorder that impaired his ability to form the culpable mental state to commit the crime for which he is charged,” Stanton’s report states.

“In light of the above, referral for in-patient psychiatric observation in a forensic facility is recommended.”

The report from the State-appointed psychiatrists, Dr Piotrowski and Dr Sietshiro, found, however, that Vermeulen was capable of following the court proceedings in order to make a proper defence and knew the wrongfulness of the alleged act and had the ability to act accordingly.

“It is recommended that the law takes its course,” their report states.

Both reports were handed in to the court as exhibits yesterday.

The case was postponed to this morning after it was pointed out that in terms of the recently amended act, an accused can apply to be evaluated by a third psychiatrist.

Yesterday’s postponement was to allow Vermeulen’s defence lawyer to make this application this morning.

Brown, who lived together with Vermeulen’s father, Albertus Vermeulen, was found dead on May 21, 2016 with six gunshot wounds (two to the head) on the farm Jonkerwater, where the couple lived.

At the time of the incident, the accused lived in Prieska during the week, where he attended school. However, he often spent his weekends on his father’s farm.

On the day of the alleged incident, the accused and Brown were on the farm together.

During the evening of the incident, the accused contacted his father on his cellphone on numerous occasions.

Later during the same evening, the accused travelled alone to the house of his grandfather in Prieska. He had a .22 rifle with him.

Police were then contacted and they went to the farm, where the body of Brown was discovered. She was already dead.

According to the autopsy report, Brown sustained six gunshot wounds. It was, however the two gunshots to the head that killed her.

The accused was arrested the same evening at his grandfather’s house in Prieska.

The State alleges that he used the .22 rifle to shoot and kill Brown.