Courtney Pieters' alleged killer recognised by walk, shape of his head – investigating officer

Accused child killer Mortimer Saunders was recognised on video footage by a childhood friend who recognised his distinct walk and the shape of his head, the Western Cape High Court heard on Thursday.

Investigating officer Captain Sean Taylor said the CCTV recording obtained from factories in Epping near where little Courtney Pieters had been dumped had not been clear enough for facial recognition.

Taylor, who has 28 years' experience in policing, said he viewed the footage on May 14, 2017, the day after Courtney's body was found.

"One could clearly see a person in a red shirt walking with something over his shoulder," he testified.

The man "dropped something" in a dead-end street. His face, however, was not easily recognisable.

A female friend of the accused who saw the footage identified the person as Saunders, who had lived in the same house as the murdered 3-year-old girl.

Poisoned and beaten

Taylor said he had also shown the footage to Courtney's mother. She had claimed not to recognise the person, but later told Taylor that she had lied because she "couldn't believe it".

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.

Read: Pathologist cross-examined in Courtney Pieters murder trial (Warning: sensitive details)

In his plea explanation, he confessed to murder and to using his fingers to penetrate her after her death.

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.

Admission to police

Saunders – a childhood friend of Courtney's father – had also apparently been irritated because the toddler wanted to watch TV in his room and he wanted to sleep.

Taylor said after Saunders' arrest, he had made admissions to the police, despite being advised about his rights.

Saunders had said he didn't want a legal representative. He had also pointed out to police the scene where he had dumped the body.

According to Taylor, Saunders had claimed to have committed the sexual act on her body after dumping it in Epping. He later said it had occurred in his bedroom.

Saunders, through his counsel advocate Mornay Calitz, denied changing his story.

Saunders has maintained that he had kept the poison for an ant problem they had in the Pluto Street house.

Also read: Courtney Pieters' cause of death confirmed (Warning: sensitive details)

Only photo of toddler came from accused's phone

Taylor said throughout the investigation he had visited the property at least twice a day. He had never seen the ant infestation Saunders claimed there was.

Another suspect who lived around the corner from the Pieters home was investigated and cleared after Courtney had apparently been spotted on the day of her disappearance standing at an electricity box opposite this man's house.

Taylor said Saunders and neighbours had pointed police to the man. Saunders, through Calitz, denied this.

The only photo authorities could obtain of the little girl came from Saunders' phone, Taylor said.

Saunders, however, claimed that he had not taken the photo and alleged that Courtney and other children liked playing with his phone and that they had taken the photo.

Taylor was the State's final witness.

The matter was postponed to Monday when the defence will call its first witness, a private pathologist.