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Farmer to appeal life sentences

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The North West farmer has been found guilty on three counts of murder.

A NORTH West farmer, Juan Pieter Sonnenberg, has been granted leave to appeal his conviction and sentence after he was found guilty on three counts of murder.

Sonnenberg was granted leave to appeal by Free State High Court Judge Pitso Ephraim Molitsoane after he was convicted on three counts of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment on each count.

In his application for the right to appeal, Sonnenberg asserted that the court had erred in coming to the conclusion, based on circumstantial evidence, that the three deceased found on his farm, known as Diamant, were killed by him.

Summing up the evidence, Judge Molitsoane pointed out that the three deceased men were residents of Christiana.

The applicant (Sonnenberg) resided at Hertzogville, a town near Christiana. On the day that the deceased were last seen in Christiana, they boarded Sonnenberg’s bakkie, which he was driving. “They were last seen driving towards the direction of the residence of the applicant at Herzogville. The deceased were last seen alive on that day and were reported missing the next day.”

The police began to investigate the disappearance of the deceased almost immediately after they were reported missing.

“During the investigation they also questioned the applicant about the disappearance of the deceased. The applicant intimated to the police that he was never at Christiana and had never seen the deceased on the day of their disappearance.”

The remains of the deceased were discovered about a month later buried in shallow graves on the farm of the applicant, where he also resided.

The deceased had been shot in the head and their bodies crushed.

“The deceased were clearly murdered according to the expert testimony led.”

Judge Molitsoane pointed out that it had to be borne in mind that the deceased were last seen on Sonnenberg’s bakkie when it travelled towards the direction of his farm.

“There is no evidence before the court that the deceased did indeed arrive on the farm or whether they alighted along the way. The remains were also discovered about a month later.”

He stated that on these two points alone, “another court may find that the necessary nexus tying the applicant to the murders may not exist”.

“For this reason, I am of the view that another court may come to a different finding to the one this court arrived at and consequently I find that the applicant has prospects of success on appeal on the merits.”

Judge Molitsoane stated that Sonnenberg was 61 years of age at the time of his sentencing. He also had a medical condition which required medical attention. He was a first-time offender.

“The murders committed were, however, gruesome and heinous. In view of the advanced age and health condition of the applicant, I am of the view that another court may find that they constitute substantial and compelling circumstances which should have warranted this court to have deviated from imposing the minimum sentences of life imprisonment.”

He ordered that the applicant be granted leave to appeal the convictions and sentences on three counts of murder to the Full Court of this Division; but was denied leave to appeal the conviction and sentence on a charge of contravening the Firearms Control Act.