Parenticide convict Romeo Schieffer yesterday had an opportunity to appeal the 48-year sentence handed to him in the Windhoek High Court after the Chief Justice granted his petition.
This came after Judge Naomi Shivute denied his application for leave to appeal both the conviction and sentence he received for the murder of both his parents. At the time Judge Shivute said Schieffer did not satisfy the requirement that he has a reasonable prospect of success.
Schieffer was convicted of killing both his parents, Frans and Fransiena Schieffer – who were both 50 years old at the time of their demise – at their house in Khomasdal on January 18, 2008.
He was sentenced to 28 years on each murder count, with eight years from the second conviction ordered to run concurrently with the sentence on the first count.
Winnie Christians, the State-funded lawyer of Schieffer, petitioned the Chief Justice to appeal both the conviction and the sentence. However, he was only granted leave to appeal the sentence, as the Chief Justice could find no reason to question the conclusion of Judge Shivute in the original trial in which Schieffer was convicted of double murder.
Christians argued in the appeal hearing that Schieffer’s youthfulness at the time of the murders should have been given sufficient weight when the sentence was considered.
According to Christians, the trial court made a vital misdirection when it overemphasised the seriousness of the offence and did not take into account the youthfulness of the appellant. He argued that in such an instance the Supreme Court has a duty to interfere with the trial court’s sentence.
In fact, Christians stated, the trial court did not take into account the severity of the cumulative effect of the sentence. According to him the effect of the 48 years imprisonment is that it does not afford the appellant the chance to reform and become a productive member of society.
He called the sentence startlingly inappropriate and said it includes a sense of shock, as there is a striking disparity between the sentence imposed by the trial court and what would have been imposed by the Court of Appeal.
Christians centred his arguments mostly on the youthfulness of Schieffer and said the interests of society cannot be satisfied at the expense of a juvenile, which could be a mistaken form of punishment resulting in a distorted person returning to society.
Christians further argued there is no evidence of bad blood between Schieffer and his victims and the offences committed were done out of an impulse – a “frenzy” – after his mother scolded him one time too many. There is no evidence that the murders were planned, he reminded the judges.
“Not so,” said Deputy Prosecutor General Antonia Verhoef said. According to her, the distinctive conduct of Schieffer after the murders was calculated and determined.
She said he killed his father to eliminate him as a possible witness to the murder of his mother and to possibly prevent him from helping his mortally wounded wife.
She further said his actions of leaving the house when his friend, Lee-Roy van Neel, arrived was to conceal the fact that he had murdered his parents.
According to Verhoef, the calculated and determined conduct of Schieffer showed when he committed the crimes and the consequent cover-up is inconsistent with his claims of youthful impulsivity.
She said there is no evidence his youthfulness influenced him in the commission of the murders, or that his actions were accentuated by immaturity. “There is no indication in the evidence that the appellant – despite his age – acted anything else, but as an ordinary criminal and he should be treated as such,” Verhoef stressed.
On questions from the court about the psychological condition of Schieffer, as he did not show any emotion or remorse over his actions, Verhoef was adamant that Schieffer does not suffer from any mental disorder.
The appeal was heard by Deputy Chief Justice Petrus Damaseb, Judge of Appeal Dave Smuts and Judge of Appeal Elton Hoff. Judgment was reserved.