The thugs who gang-raped and murdered South African student Hannah Cornelius have been jailed for life – sparking cheers in the court’s public gallery.
Geraldo Parsons, 27, Vernon Witbooi, 33, and Eben van Niekerk, 28, were found guilty of Hannah’s rape and murder, as well as the kidnap, robbery and attempted murder of her friend Cheslin Marsh last week.
All three were sentenced to two life terms each for Hannah’s rape and murder at Western Cape High Court on Monday. Witbooi and Parsons were also both handed 25 years for attempted murder, 15 years each for four counts of robbery and 10 years for kidnapping.
Van Niekerk was also sentenced to 20 years for attempted murder, 20 years for robbery, 10 years for kidnapping Hannah and Cheslin, eight years for kidnapping another woman, Mimi October.
A fourth man, Nashville Julius, 29, was sentenced to 15 years for two counts of robbery and seven years for kidnapping. His sentence will run concurrently.
The crowd in the public gallery cheered and chanted ‘Justice!’ as the four were hauled back into their holding cells following the hearing. Judge Rosheni Allie had told the court that none of the men showed ‘true remorse’ at the hearing, News 24 reports.
The judge also condemned the men for violating Hannah’s ‘privacy, dignity and humanity’ as she handed down sentences.
The thugs who gang-raped and murdered South African student Hannah Cornelius (pictured) have been jailed for life
Verdict: Vernon Witbooi, 33, Geraldo Parsons, 27, Eben van Niekerk, 28, and Nashville Julius, 29, appear in court today ahead of their sentencing
She said the manner in which they preyed on the 21-year-old student was the ‘crudest and cruellest form of violence’ and throwing a rock on her to kill her after brutally raping her was ‘vengeful.’
Hannah, 21, was raped repeatedly and then killed after she and her friend Cheslin, 22, were carjacked in Stellenbosch after a night out with friends in May last year.
Cheslin was battered with bricks and left for dead by the attackers. He survived the brutal assault, which left him deaf in one ear.
He received his hearing aid today, his mother Marilyn said.
‘He heard everything the judge said. Clearly,’ she told News24.
On Monday, Judge Allie said none of the assailants had circumstances extenuating enough to warrant deviating from the prescribed minimum sentence.
She said the Cornelius family has been torn apart, while Cheslin suffered extreme trauma and wasn’t able to continue his studies.
Under South African law, prisoners must be given parole hearings after having served 25 years or after serving the minimum sentence for the lesser crime they have been convicted of.
It was earlier revealed that the four abductors made Hannah sit between the front seats of her Volkswagen Citi Golf as they went on an 11-hour crime spree.
They took her to an isolated spot where they raped her before stabbing her in the neck and dropping a rock on her head.
They carried on their rampage, a video from TimesLIVE revealed and went on to attack another two women.
A combination of CCTV footage and police interviews titled ’11 Hours, 4 Victims, 1 Hell Ride’ shows how the men held a screwdriver to Hannah’s breast as they commandeered her vehicle at about 3.30am.
After killing her, they chased a woman as she walked to work in Kraaifontein and stolen her bag as well as her phone.
They kidnapped the victim and Witbooi drew out 3,000 rand (£161) from her account while she was in the back of the car.
She was freed close to the site where Hannah was raped. The group then attacked another woman.
Taken: Hannah Cornelius, a second year university student, had driven her friend Cheslin Marsh home, and the pair were carjacked outside his block of flats
Geraldo Parsons (second from left) covers his face after being found guilty of kidnapping, gang-raping and murdering a university student
Vernon Witbooi, Geraldo Parsons, Eben van Niekerk and Nashville Julius at the Western Cape High Court on Wednesday
The video surfaced after Hannah’s father, Willem Cornelius, yesterday said his wife, Anna, became a ‘shadow of herself’ after their daughter was killed following a night out.
Addressing court today where he faced his daughter’s killers, Mr Cornelius said his ‘family died with Hannah’.
He said ‘no-one really knows’ what happened when his 56-year-old wife – once ‘the strongest and most competent person I have ever met’ – decided to go swimming ‘in the ice-cold and stormy Atlantic Ocean’.
But he added: ‘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.’
In his heartbreaking appearance in court, Mr Cornelius said the effect of his daughter’s death on the family was ‘beyond devastating’.
Kidnap: CCTV footage captured the moment when four men carjacked Ms Cornelius and Mr Marsh in May last year
Hannah’s friend is pictured in bloodstained jeans at the hospital after he survived a brutal attack at the hands of the thugs who murdered her
According to TimesLive, Mrs Cornelius’ body was found off Scarborough on the Cape Peninsula after she went for her daily swim at 7am.
A colleague with the Hannah Cornelius Foundation – set up in Hannah’s name – said Mrs Cornelius ‘had been quite ill’.
Foundation CEO Lily Reed said at the time: ‘She had flu and a chest throat infection the whole week before. I think that added to it.’
Rescuers said they expected she had drowned. Once a magistrate, Mr Cornelius told the court he did not believe he had the impartiality to continue in the role after what had happened to his daughter.
Earlier, her aunt, Professor Eleanor Cornelius slammed the attackers for smiling throughout the case ‘like they had only gotten up to mischief’.
Cheslin Marsh’s mother also took the stand and spoke directly to the men in the dock.
Willem Cornelius (pictured today), the father of murdered Hannah Cornelius has revealed his wife ‘walked into the ocean and never returned’ after struggling to cope with her loss
Marilyn Marsh said: ‘Who does something like that to a person? My son did nothing to you.’
Witbooi, whom the judge revealed has a violent criminal record going back 19 years, was also filmed giving a camera a ‘thumbs up’ as he left Western Cape Court.
This morning, the court heard that Parsons had a tattoo on his body saying ‘f**k the cops’ and another saying ‘hungry for money, thirsty for blood’.
Another shows a baboon with a woman’s face with its legs open, the court was told, according to News24.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Eleven-hour ‘hell ride’ crime spree
CCTV footage shows Hannah’s Volkswagen pull into a grass patch to drop off Cheslin.
Nashville Julius, 29, Geraldo Parsons, 27, Eben Van Niekerk, 28, and Vernon Witbooi, 33, approach them after deciding to rob the pair.
They attack Cheslin and Hannah, holding the screwdriver to her breast. The thugs steal her purse and mobile phone as well as Cheslin’s wallet, backpack and earrings.
Julius leaves the scene. The other three kidnap Hannah and Cheslin.
Hannah’s aunt, Professor Eleanor Cornelius, has today slammed the attackers for smiling throughout the case ‘like they had only gotten up to mischief’
They drive off with Cheslin in the back of the car and Hannah in between the front two seats.
Hannah is pictured alive for the last time at a petrol station. She is sat in the front passenger seat. Cheslin is in the boot.
Witbooi fails to withdraw money from Cheslin’s bank account after he was given the wrong PIN. The group drive off to Kraaifontein.
The men tell Hannah they will use her car to get home before letting her go.
The thugs beat Cheslin with bricks in Kraaifontein for giving them to wrong PIN. They leave him in a pool of blood.
Hannah is taken to a secluded paintball site where the men gang-rape her before driving her 12 miles to a farm road, where they drag her out of the vehicle.
She is stabbed in the neck and a large rock is dropped on her head. The killers leave her body and drive away.
The men chase a woman who they spot walking to work in Kraaifontein, stealing her bag and phone and kidnapping her.
They are spotted at a petrol station in Brackenfell. Witbooi withdraws 3,000 rand (£161) from the kidnapped woman’s account.
The kidnappers free their victim close to the spot at which they raped Hannah. Van Niekerk is dropped off.
Another woman is attacked.
Police spot Parsons and Witbooi, chase them down and arrest them.