35 years for murder of pregnant girlfriend… alcohol blamed

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Windhoek

Isak van der Westhuizen, 23, who confessed to murdering his pregnant girlfriend at Maltahöhe nearly two years ago, was on Thursday sentenced by the High Court in Windhoek to 35 years in prison.

On September 23 he pleaded guilty to stabbing Elfrieda Swartbooi, 33, to death on October 31, 2013 at Maltahöhe in the Mariental District in a house they shared.

Van der Westhuizen admitted to attacking the deceased, who was six to seven months pregnant by him. He stabbed and cut Swartbooi at least 14 times with a hunting knife on her neck and chest. She died from the injuries and blood loss caused by the attack.

After realising he had killed her, van der Westhuizen tried to slit his own throat so that he could die with her, in a failed suicide attempt that left him with a permanent scar across the neck.

“The sentence to be imposed must equally serve as a deterrence to him and other criminals, especially those who make themselves guilty of serious crimes encountered in this case and, more so, when committed against a domestic background,” Judge Christi Liebenberg said while delivering sentence.

Van der Westhuizen is currently held at the Windhoek Correctional facility, where he is serving a two-year sentence imposed in March after he assaulted, with the intent to cause serious bodily harm, someone who had come to the assistance of the deceased.

In a letter read in court by his lawyer Hipura Ujaha in September, van der Westhuizen said he and Swartbooi had a good and loving relationship – except when alcohol and jealousy came into play.

In the letter, he blamed the killing on the effect that alcohol had on him that evening. Van der Westhuizen also stated that he still loved Swartbooi and could not get her out of his mind, and asked the court to give him a second chance.
During arguments last month on the sentence to be imposed, Deputy Prosecutor General Antonia Verhoef asked van der Westhuizen to be sentenced to 35 to 40 years in prison to show that the courts are serious in their duty to curb the scourge of murders of women, specifically.

Verhoef said three children will now have to grow up without the love and protection of their mother, because Van der Westhuizen could not accept the deceased wanted to end an abusive relationship in which she did not feel safe.
He was given a formal warning in terms of the Combating of Domestic Violence Act on August 1, 2013, but little more than a month later he again assaulted Swartbooi by slapping her, Verhoef said.

On October 23, 2013, he was found guilty of assault in connection with that incident and sentenced to pay a fine, she continued. That, too, did not have a sobering effect on him.

The defence on the other hand, represented by Hipura Ujaha on instructions from Mbaeva and Associates, argued that van der Westhuizen did not waste the court’s time and indicated to the court during his first scheduled pre-trial conference before Judge Liebenberg in the High Court in September, that he wishes to plead guilty to the charge of murder.

This must be taken as a show of remorse and of taking responsibility for his actions on the part of the accused, Ujaha stated. He said the accused’s relatively youthful age makes him a perfect candidate for rehabilitation. He asked the court to show leniency and to sentence his client to no more than 20 years.

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