The father of a brilliant student who was kidnapped, gang-raped and murdered in South Africa has faced her killers in court.
Hannah Cornelius, 21, was carjacked while dropping off fellow student Cheslin Marsh, 22, at his home in Stellenbosch, west of Cape Town, after a night out in May 2017.
Geraldo Parsons, 27, Vernon Witbooi, 33, and Eben van Niekerk, 28, were yesterday found guilty of the rape and murder, as well as the kidnap, robbery and attempted murder of Mr Marsh. A fourth man, Nashville Julius, 29, was found guilty of kidnapping and robbing Ms Cornelius and Mr Marsh.
Today, her father Willem Cornelius, was called to the stand in the Western Cape High Court and revealed he had not previously been able to sit through the harrowing proceedings, saying: ‘I couldn’t bear to hear what they did to my daughter’.
Earlier, her aunt, Professor Eleanor Cornelius slammed the attackers for smiling throughout the case ‘like they had only gotten up to mischief’.
Justice: Hannah Cornelius, 21, was raped and murdered in Stellenbosch, South Africa, after she and her friend were carjacked by four men in May, last year
Verdict: Vernon Witbooi, 33, Geraldo Parsons, 27, Eben van Niekerk, 28, and Nashville Julius, 29, appear in court during their trial. Hannah’s aunt, Professor Eleanor Cornelius, has today slammed the attackers for smiling throughout the case ‘like they had only gotten up to mischief’
Geraldo Parsons (second from left) covers his face after being found guilty of kidnapping, gang-raping and murdering a university student
In his heartbreaking appearance in court, Mr Cornelius said the effect of his daughter’s death on the family was ‘beyond devastating’ and revealed his wife ‘walked into the ocean and didn’t return’.
While he does not believe his wife intended to kill herself, he said she lacked the physical or mental strength to deal with what happened.
‘I believe our family died with Hannah,’ he told the court.
Once a magistrate, he said he did not believe he had the impartiality to continue in the role after what had happened to his daughter.
Earlier, the mother of Cheslin Marsh – who was battered with bricks and left for dead by the attackers – took the stand and spoke directly to the men in the dock.
Marilyn Marsh said: ‘Who does something like that to a person? My son did nothing to you.’
Yesterday, video footage from the court posted on social media by Times Live heard Parsons and Witbooi being asked in Afrikaans if they are sorry, to which Parsons responded that he was.
Parsons had previously told the court during the trial that the quartet had only intended on stealing Ms Cornelius’ car and that the incident spiralled after they saw the two students still inside.
He said the desperate student had bargained with them, agreeing to let the men sexually assault her – as long as they let her live.
However, several of the men brutally raped her, after which they threw her into the boot of her own car, and drove her to a secluded spot where they murdered her.
CCTV footage released during the trial shows how the incident began in the early hours of May 27, 2017.
Four men are seen surrounded Ms Cornelius’ VW Golf, parked outside the block of flats where Mr Marsh lived.
Taken: Ms Cornelius, a second year university student, had driven her friend Cheslin Marsh home, and the pair were carjacked outside his block of flats
Vernon Witbooi, Geraldo Parsons, Eben van Niekerk and Nashville Julius at the Western Cape High Court on Wednesday
Evil: Ms Cornelius reportedly bargained with the men in order to try to convince them to let her live, but they ended her life by crushing her head with a large rock
Kidnap: CCTV footage captured the moment when four men carjacked Ms Cornelius and Mr Marsh in May last year
Pure evil: Describing the sexual assault Ms Cornelius suffered, a state pathologist told the Western Cape High Court it ‘would have been a very painful experience to the person’
Mr Marsh says they had ended up chatting in the car, and were interrupted by a man putting a screwdriver to Ms Cornelius’ chest through the open window.
They were forced out of the car, after which Mr Marsh was robbed of cash and his phone and locked in the car boot.
The four men forced Ms Cornelius to get back into the car with them, after which they drove to a drug dealer’s home to smoke crystal meth, before they drove out of Stellenbosch and pulled over near a local vineyard.
They reportedly dragged Mr Marsh out of the boot and made him lay his head on a rock on the ground before battering his skull with bricks until they thought he was dead.
Shocking: Ms Cornelius was dragged from her car and raped by at least three of the men, the court heard last month
Injured: Three men made Mr Marsh (pictured after) put his head on a rock then battered his skull with house bricks until they thought he was dead
Mr Marsh recovered consciousness the following day, and staggered to a nearby home suffering severe head injuries and a broken arm to raise the alarm about Ms Cornelius.
Unknown to him her body had been found just hours earlier, dumped by the roadside.
After the rape and murder of Ms Cornelius, the gang went on a crime spree in the hijacked car, robbing at least three women before the stolen car was spotted and a high speed police chase began.
Three were arrested after dumping the car and fleeing and the fourth was arrested later.
Cornelius and Marsh were chatting in a blue Volkswagen Citi Golf (pictured right during the subsequent police chase of the killers) when they were approached by four men