Pathologist cross-examined in Courtney Pieters murder trial (Warning: sensitive details)
*WARNING: Sensitive details
The State pathologist in the trial of Mortimer Saunders, accused of raping and murdering three-year-old Courtney Pieters, was cross-examined in the Western Cape High Court on Wednesday.
The lacerations on Courtney's genitals could have been caused by fingers, a State pathologist conceded in the Western Cape High Court.
Professor Johan Dempers agreed that he could not conclusively say that the injuries to the little girl's genitals were caused by a penis, and that the semen found could have been transferred by other means, including by hand.
Courtney's decomposing body was discovered in Epping Industria in May, nine days after her disappearance from her Elsies River home.
Saunders faces charges of premeditated murder and rape but denies that he planned the toddler's death, or that he raped her while she was alive.
In his plea explanation, he confessed to murder and to using his fingers to penetrate her after her death.
Testimony too much to bear for Courtney's mother
Saunders said he had given Courtney ant poison to make her sick before he choked her, beat her and used a towel to cover her mouth.
He claimed he had done it because of "ill feelings" between him and her mother, Juanita.
Saunders - a childhood friend of Courtney's father who lived in the same house - had also apparently been irritated because the toddler wanted to watch TV in his room and he wanted to sleep.
During Dempers' testimony on her daughter's vaginal injuries, Juanita got up and left the courtroom.
The defence had consulted a private pathologist, Dr Segaraan Naidoo, who said that the genital injuries were "in keeping with digital insertion".
But Dempers said the rape of a child would cause unpredictable lacerations.
The defence's advocate Mornay Calitz put it to Dempers that what was suspected to be blood on the little girl's denim shorts could have been purge fluid, released during decomposition.
After carefully examining the post-mortem photos, he said he couldn't commit to saying what exactly the fluid was.
External blunt-force injuries
However, to him the stain was focal - like blood - and didn't look like purge fluid.
"I don't think one can be dogmatically sure," Dempers said.
Fluid which ran from the toddler's nose and pooled in her ear was what he expected purge fluid to look like, he testified.
During his evidence-in-chief, Dempers - who supervised the little girl's post-mortem - testified that Courtney had died as a result of asphyxia through smothering or strangulation, "and/or" poisoning.
She had also sustained external blunt-force injuries to her face, torso and limbs and there were signs of pressure to her neck as well as genital injuries, Dempers said at the time.
He added that the genital injuries could have been caused by overextension.
When asked if he could say whether she had been raped before she was killed, Dempers said he could not exclude that her injuries had happened before her death.
The trial continues on Thursday.
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