The disposal of a body by burning it beyond recognition could be viewed as an act even more severe than the actual murder. This was the sentiment expressed by Kimberley Regional Court Magistrate, Vernon Smith, during the sentencing of Dennis September, who pleaded guilty to killing and burning Seshney Blaauw, his former girlfriend and mother of his seven-year-old son, in 2015.
September was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment for murder and a further seven years imprisonment for a charge of disposal of the body after he set it alight. September on Wednesday admitted, in his plea statement which was read in court prior to his sentencing, that he killed Blaauw by strangling her and later dumping her body as well as setting it alight.
The charred body of the deceased was found by illegal miners next to the Kenilworth Cemetery, close to Beefmaster on October 27 2015.
The court heard that illegal miners, who came across the body, were not sure whether it was human remains or a doll that had been burnt. The accused was arrested on November 11 2015 after a forensic employee at the mortuary heard that September had pointed the badly burnt body of the deceased out to a family member.
September, in his statement read by his lawyer, Advocate Sakkie Nel, said that the incident happened after he wanted to talk to Blaauw about their son.
“The accused and I were in a relationship and have a seven-year-old son. Our relationship ended in 2015 and I later dated another woman to whom I became engaged. The deceased and her sister tried everything to separate me from my son.
“That resulted in me suffering from depression and I tried to commit suicide on two occasions about three weeks before the incident. I was admitted to hospital for my depression,” he said.
He added that Blaauw did not want him to be with his son, especially when his fiance was present.
“On the day of the incident I had planned to discuss my son in the presence of my fiance. The deceased and my fiance met each other at the clinic. I picked them up in my car and we all went to my shanty in Ivory Park. When we arrived at the shanty, the deceased went to sit on the bed. I asked her what was wrong with my fiance and why she would not allow me see my child,” September said.
He stated that Blaauw screamed at him and he became angry.
“I started to strangle her with both my hands. I realised she had became weak and it appeared as if she was not breathing. I felt her pulse and there was nothing. I then realised that she was dead. I hid the body under the bed because I did not know what to do and I was afraid.”
Later that night he dumped her body outside the city and set it alight.
“I was afraid and did not know what to do with the body. My fiance and I were arrested a few days after the incident. After we appeared in court, I told the investigating officer that I wanted to tell a magistrate about what had happened that night. I then confessed.”
September also pointed out the scene where the body was dumped the next day to a police captain.
“I realise that I killed the mother of my child and I am sorry for that. I want to apologise to my child, my family and the family of the deceased for all the heartache. I also want to apologise to my fiance for involving her in this incident,” the statement read.
Nel, during pre-sentencing procedures, asked the court to deviate from the prescribed minimum sentence of 15 years and not to focus too much on how the body was disposed.
“The reason the accused met with the deceased on the day (of the incident) was to discuss their son. That discussion went wrong. He later burnt the body as he did not know what to do with it. The accused, however, later admitted to the crime and that is a sign of remorse. That is a mitigating factor. There is no prescribed sentence for disposing of a body.
“The reason behind the burning of the body was merely because the accused did not know what to do with the body and he was afraid at the time,” Nel said.
He added that the circumstances behind the crime itself were ordinary. “If one subtracts the burning of the body from the incident as a whole, the crime is actually just a ‘normal’ murder,” he said.
Nel also said that the time the accused was in custody should be viewed as a mitigating factor. “The accused has been in custody awaiting trial for the past two years. He is a first offender. It is also evident that emotions played a role in the incident.
“The accused pleaded guilty and has shown remorse for his actions. All these factors should be viewed as mitigating factors,” said Nel.
The State, represented by Advocate Sue-Ann Weyers-Gericke, argued that the burning of the body deprived the family of an opportunity to have a proper funeral.
“The deceased was reported missing by the family. The family had to go through the trauma of searching for the deceased. The accused even inquired from them whether they had any news of her whereabouts. The family later had to go and identify a body that was burnt beyond recognition.
“Police had to take DNA samples from the child of the deceased which were matched with DNA from the remains. That entire process was very traumatic, not only for the family but also for those who came across the body,” Weyers-Gericke said.
She added that the accused had ample time to report the matter to police afterwards.
“The accused could have reported the matter to the police after he had strangled the deceased. He did not do that and continued to hide her body and later burnt it.”
She said the incident has had a negative impact on the family as well as the child of the deceased. “This child has been robbed of both his parents. How will a child ever get over the fact that his father murdered his mother? The family of the deceased indicated that the child continuously asks for his mother. The children also tease him by telling him that his father killed his mother,” she said.
Smith, during the sentencing, said the accused had ample time to stop the sequence of his actions
“The accused strangled the deceased with his bare hands. He did not stop there but went on to dispose of the body by burning it until it was unrecognisable. Judging from the crime, the manner in which the accused tried to dispose of the body is even more severe than that of strangulation.
“The accused did not play open cards with authorities from the outset. He only confessed after he was arrested. The disposal cannot be viewed as part of the murder due to the severity thereof. Imposing a light sentence on such a crime will be grossly irresponsible for the court and how we are supposed to treat each other,” he said.