Courtney Pieters murder: 'Further scientific developments' lead to postponement of trial

"Further scientific developments" has led to a two-day postponement of the Courtney Pieters murder trial.

Mortimer Saunders, who has been charged with 3-year-old Courtney's murder, appeared in the Western Cape High Court on Monday where pathologist Professor Johan Dempers was supposed to be cross-examined.

Dempers supervised the toddler's post mortem.

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

But prosecutor Esmeralda Cecil told Judge Pearl Mantame that the State had received further scientific developments on Sunday and she needed to consult with Dempers to decide whether she would lead this evidence.

The further developments are understood to be related to the alleged rape of the 3-year-old and whether it was committed before or after her death.

Relevant evidence

Tests are believed to have been performed following further research by the expert during the recess period.

Cecil said that while she understood the accused had a right to a speedy trial, it was in the interests of justice to ensure that all relevant evidence was brought before the court.

Defence advocate Mornay Calitz pointed out that the tests were conducted by Dempers after his evidence-in-chief.

He said he reserved his right to object should the State decide to lead the evidence as it "wasn't evidence not led by oversight".

Mantame postponed the case to Wednesday.

Dempers supervised Pieters' autopsy, which was conducted in May last year after her decomposing body was discovered in Epping Industria - 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.

Saunders said he had given Courtney ant poison to make her sick, before he choked her, beat her and used a towel to close 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.

Dempers found that Pieters 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 testified.

He added that the genital injuries could have been caused by it being overextended.

When asked during his evidence-in-chief if he could say whether she had been raped before she was killed, Dempers said he could not exclude that her injuries happened ante-mortem.

Cecil also asked if it was fair to say that a penis had been used to penetrate Pieters, pointing out the presence of semen. He responded that he couldn't exclude the scenario and that a penis could cause the injuries she had sustained.

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