High court Judge Neil Tuchten says he finds it difficult to put the horror of a three-year-old child’s injuries behind him.
Tuchten made the remarks in Pretoria yesterday during sentencing argument in the trial of William Tjiane, a Mamelodi man who was convicted on a charge of culpable homicide for negligently causing the death of his girlfriend Elizabeth Phahle’s son, Tebetso, in August 2010.
The judge earlier found that Tjiane had probably severely assaulted the child in a fit of anger, because he had soiled himself, but said he could find no evidence that it was Tjiane’s intention to kill Tebetso.
The judge found that Tjiane had failed to get medical help for the boy and left him alone in the house for hours, despite knowing that he had difficulty breathing, to protect himself from being held responsible for the boy’s injuries.
The child died shortly after his mother rushed him to hospital on finding him seriously injured. He had blunt force injuries on his forehead and the back of his head, multiple brain bleeds and his buttocks were purple and swollen.
There were lacerations inside his lips and he had print abrasions, corresponding with Tjiane’s shoe print, on his flank and thigh. The court rejected Tjiane’s claim that he had nothing to do with the child’s injuries and that the boy must have fallen while he was outside fetching water.
Defence counsel Pearl Masete submitted that Tjiane was sorry about the child’s death, but Tuchten said it meant nothing as Tjiane was not prepared to say so under oath.
Masete argued that Tjiane had no previous convictions and was a responsible person, who had sent what he could of the salary he earned as a cleaner to his father.
In an apparent reference to the trial of former Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius, Tuchten asked if what happened to a young man, very good at running, who had a moment of rage and then “cancelled his whole, blameless, decent life” was not what had happened to Tjiane.
Prosecutor Salome Scheepers asked for a 12-year effective sentence but Masete argued that a five-year effective prison sentence was more appropriate.