Judge Mokhine Mosopa handed down a life sentence to convicted child rapist Nicholas Ninow on Thursday afternoon in the High Court in Pretoria.
This was cheered in court.
He was given five years for drug possession and another five for defeating the ends of justice, one to run concurrently with the life sentence.
He would also be placed on the sex offenders register.
The court had earlier heard arguments in mitigation and aggravation of sentence, with the state asking for the maximum of a life sentence and the 21-year-old Ninow himself pleading for clemency, arguing he would kill himself if sent to prison for life.
In his judgment, Mosopa referenced the scourge of gender-based violence in South Africa, and that the court had been asked not to be shy to impose sentences that could function as a deterrent. “The objective of sentencing is not to satisfy public opinion… even if the sentence does not satisfy the public. A court can not make choices in the sense that it will find favour of public opinion.”
Nevertheless, the ruling is largely in line with public opinion.
Ninow had admitted on Wednesday that he did not care about the consequences of his actions when he’d raped a seven-year-old girl in the bathrooms of a toilet at the Dros restaurant in Silverton, Pretoria.
Ninow said recreational drugs had made him “angry and full of hatred” and that he was acting on impulse alone.
“Sober-minded, I would never have done such a thing, not to anyone, never mind a little child. I could not get physical with anyone sober, I am not violent,” he told the court.
He added that his grandmother would attest to his assertion that he was a “different person” when high. His grandmother, Pauline Gericke, did indeed testify in favour of Ninow’s character on Thursday, blaming Ninow’s mother for reintroducing him to drugs after he had been “clean” for some time.
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Ninow had earlier detailed his history of drug abuse, which began when he was 13 years old after being introduced to CAT by his mother.
The court was also asked to consider his young age and his first-offender status as mitigation. x
Judge Mosopa acknowledged that Ninow appeared to be a broken person. “The person who was supposed to protect him introduced him to drugs,” he said. However, he said the harm caused to the victim could not be downplayed. “The complainant is scared of being in the company of men. Ninow violated a child he should have protected,” said the judge.
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Taking the stand to testify in aggravation of sentence, forensic social worker Captain Karin Botha detailed the trauma of the rape and how it haunted the victim to this day.
Thirteen months after she was raped by Ninow, the now eight-year-old victim still has nightmares about him, scared that he will attack her in her room, as he did in the Dros restaurant bathroom.
Botha told the court that the victim, who cannot be named to protect her identity, could still vividly remember what Ninow looked like and what he wore on the day he raped her in September 2018.
According to Botha, who compiled a victim impact report, the girl was still extremely anxious and nervous all the time and that this was reflected in her body language.
Since the incident, the victim had become petrified of restaurants and men, Botha testified.
Botha testified that the media coverage had made the young girl feel very vulnerable. Botha told the court that the victim was suffering from deep-rooted trauma that may very well continue into adulthood and cause a number of mental issues.
She said that Ninow should be sentenced to life in prison.
When the victim was asked how Ninow should be punished, she said: “I mostly want him in jail to learn his lesson. He needs to learn not to harm people.”
Following Botha’s testimony, both the State and the defence made their closing arguments.
Herman Alberts for Ninow conceded that there could not be a short prison sentence for what Ninow had done, but asked the court to look at his background and circumstances, arguing for a deviation from a life sentence, but still a long sentence so that he could be rehabilitated.
State prosecutor Dorah Ngobeni submitted that there were no mitigating circumstances that could take away the horrific nature of the crime, and thus, Ninow should be sentenced to life in prison.
She also argued that Ninow was not remorseful, but rather regretted his action because of the repercussions he was now facing.
After a week-long trial in September, Judge Mokhine Mosopa found Ninow guilty of rape, possession of an illegal substance and defeating the ends of justice. He was found not guilty of assaulting two Dros employees after he was caught.
Ninow said he had used crystal meth and khat on the day of the incident, and skipped work to go to the restaurant’s bar, where he ordered alcohol.
He had disappeared from work two days before to go on a drug binge and had meant to go there on the day of the rape to fix the situation and speak to his manager, he said.
The rapist broke down crying in court, saying that what he did “breaks him” daily and that he struggled to live with what he had done.
He disputed the court’s finding that the rape was premeditated and that he planned to move to the children’s area at the restaurant, saying he did so impulsively.
Mosopa had earlier found Ninow guilty of rape, possession of an illegal substance and defeating the ends of justice. Ninow had pleaded guilty. He was found not guilty of assaulting two Dros employees after he was caught, and a kidnapping charge was withdrawn by the state before the trial commenced.
Ninow read a poem and a letter to the victim’s family earlier during proceedings, a move state prosecutor Dorah Ngobeni dismissed as an attempt to get a more lenient sentence.
The rapist denied this, and said he felt it was his duty to apologise.
While Ngobeni said he lacked remorse for his crime, because if he was truly remorseful he would be truthful about what happened, Ninow said he was full of self-loathing due to his crimes.
“People don’t need to hate me, I do enough of that for all of us,” he said.
Ngobeni told Ninow that the victim still saw him in her nightmares regularly and that an image of him wearing a bloodied T-shirt was etched in her brain.
The prosecutor told Ninow his evidence contradicted that of a witness, who said he seemed to be in control and present following the act. She questioned why he had pleaded guilty if he claimed to not have been in control of his actions.
Ninow said he did so because he wanted to “take responsibility for his actions” like his grandmother had taught him to do, and added that he hoped to be a productive member of society one day.
Ngobeni countered that he only pleaded guilty because he had no choice as he was caught in the middle of the act, adding that his version of events – in which he said he had acted impulsively rather than in a premeditated fashion – was not accurate.
Ninow had earlier described being abused as a child, and Ngobeni questioned why he would then do so to another child “in a public space”. He had no answer to this, saying only that he didn’t know why he had committed the act.
Ngobeni questioned why he forced himself on a child when he had never done so to his ex-fiancee or grandmother, to which the rapist answered that he had acted “in the spur of the moment” for reasons unknown to him.
The prosecutor also questioned how Ninow could be attracted to the girl, who she said weighed only 21kg and was only “three rulers” high and skinny. He answered that he was not attracted to her.
Ngobeni also mentioned that his ex-fiancee had indicated that he became “more sexual” when on drugs, and put forward the theory that Ninow had raped the girl because he knew he wasn’t able to seduce a woman at the restaurant he had made sexual comments about earlier in the day, according to a witness’s testimony during the initial trial.
The prosecutor questioned Ninow on whether the attack was planned. He denied that it was, or that he’d followed the child around prior to the act as alleged by the prosecution.
While Ninow said he hated himself, he also said he believed he could be an “amazing person” if given a second chance, in response to Ngobeni saying he was a danger to society.
“If I had a second chance in life, I could be one amazing person, and I can prove to this world, just how much I can make, actually, I’ve been through a lot in my life, and … if I have a chance I can be something better, I can be … a valuable member of society, I believe that. So no, I don’t feel like I’m a danger to the public now,” he said.
(Compiled by Charles Cilliers. Background reporting Daniel Friedman, Gopolang Moloko and News24 Wire)