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Media now free to name Griekwastad killer

2014-08-15 17:19
Johannesburg - Three newspapers on Friday identified the teenager convicted of a triple murder in Griekwastad in the Northern Cape on the day of his 18th birthday.

The Star printed a photo of Don Steenkamp sitting in court, above the story headlined "This is boy who raped sister, killed parents".

According to the newspaper, a court order preventing the media from revealing the teenager's identity because he was a minor was lifted when he turned 18.

Beeld carried a photo of Steenkamp on the front page with the caption "Griekwastad. Hier is Don [here is Don]".

Beeld's sister paper Volksblad had the photo and story on its front page.

Steenkamp was found guilty of murdering his father, Griekwastad farmer Deon Steenkamp, 44, his mother Christel, 43, and his sister Marthella, 14.

Sentences to run concurrently

Previously most media reports did not state the family connection as this would have identified him while he was under the age of 18.

They were shot dead on their farm Naauwhoek on 6 April 2012.

He was also found guilty on charges of raping Marthella and lying to the police.

On Wednesday, Northern Cape Judge President Frans Kgomo sentenced him to 20 years imprisonment on each of the three murder counts, 12 years on the rape count, and four years for defeating the ends of justice. All sentences would run concurrently.

Friday was Steenkamp's second day in jail.

Media lawyer Dario Milo said South African law was unclear on the issue of identifying a child who was the subject of a court case and who turned 18. However, he believed the newspapers were justified in identifying him.

"The automatic lapsing of the protection... makes sense because the right to freedom of expression and the principle of open justice require that statutory restrictions on court reporting are interpreted as narrowly as possible.

"Those newspapers who have decided today [Friday] to name the Griekwastad convicted murderer will therefore, in our view, have a solid basis to argue that this decision was justifiable," he said in his blog Musings on Media.

Act protects minors during criminal proceedings

However, statutory interpretation was complex.

The position on this in South African law was governed by the Criminal Procedure Act read together with the Child Justice Act.

Section 63(6) of the Child Justice Act provided that section 154(3) of the Criminal Procedure Act "applies with the changes required by the context regarding the publication of information".

He said section 154(3) of the Criminal Procedure Act protected an accused person under the age of 18 during criminal proceedings, while the Child Justice Act applied to someone who was over 18 during criminal proceedings but was under that age at the time he or she was arrested.

In certain circumstances, the act also applied to someone who was over 18 but under the age of 21.
"Thus, one reading of the Child Justice Act is that the phrase... means that once the Child Justice Act is deemed to apply to a particular person then the reporting restrictions in the Criminal Procedure Act will apply until the completion of those proceedings, even if the accused is now well over 18," he said.

This could also apply to any appeal.

But when minors turned 18 they gained various freedoms they did not have before and lost certain special protections reserved for children.

Responding to a request from a newspaper to identify Steenkamp, Kgomo said what happened after judgment was none of his concern.

‘The horse has now bolted’

The judge president said when he was approached on Tuesday about publishing the boy's identity before judgment was delivered his answer was an "emphatic no".

"The horse has now bolted... What happens after I had given judgment, as of now, is none of my concern as presiding judicial officer in the case.

"I am functus officio."

This meant that an official's mandate on the matter had expired.

Kgomo could not deal with any queries once he had pronounced on the matter.

"Judges do not dispense legal advice. They speak through their judgments," he said.

During sentencing, Kgomo told the teenager to face the consequences of his deeds.

"In two days you are a man. Now, be a man," he told the teenager on Wednesday before sentencing him.

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