Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

'I Don't Want to Die'

The Trial

Cape High Court, entrance
Cape High Court, entrance
 

Monday, February 2, 2004. State advocate Anthony Stephen rose in the Cape High Court and put forth the states case against the two accused. He described the events of January 20, 2003, as a robbery which had escalated out of control. He told the court that there were "indications that both men acted in a bizarre and weird manner. There is also a degree of amnesia at a crucial juncture during the crime.

Trevor Theys (l) & Adam Woest
Trevor Theys (l) & Adam Woest
 

Woest and Theys were not asked to plead. Instead, Stephen asked the court to refer the defendants to the Valkenberg Psychiatric Hospital for observation. This request was made in agreement with that of the defense counsel. Mr. Justice Nathan Erasmus concurred and ordered psychiatric observation of 30 days, to evaluate the accuseds competence to stand trial as well as whether there was any indication of diminished responsibility.

Woest and Theys listened with fallen shoulders and blank faces. Their frames had diminished noticeably. Yet a Sea Point resident commented in the Cape Times of February 3, 2004, that, apart from the weight loss, the defendants looked very relaxed...They dont even look remorseful.

On March 3, 2004, the trial began. Theys was represented by Nehemiah Ballem, and Mornay Calitz appeared for Woest. Judge Nathan Erasmus was assisted by two assessors, Pat Madden and Martin Groenewald. Court Four was packed beyond capacity by the relatives of the victims, other members of the public and the media.

The accused were asked to plead, which they did very softly. Trevor Theys pleaded guilty to nine charges of murder, one of attempted murder, one of robbery with aggravating circumstances, one of theft (relating to his brothers handgun), and one each of the illegal possession of firearms and ammunition. Adam Woest pleaded guilty to seven charges of murder, one of attempted murder, one of robbery with aggravating circumstances, and one each of the illegal possession of firearms and ammunition. Woest pleaded not guilty to two murder chargesthose of Sergio de Castro and Gregory Berghaus.

Both accused submitted the confessions they had made after their arrests as part of their pleas. However, since each implicated the other as the instigator of both the robbery initially and the murders during the crime, as well as indicated that the other had somehow compelled them to participate, Judge Erasmus entered pleas of not guilty.

Knife found at crime scene
Knife found at crime scene
 

Then the lights dimmed and a video was shown. It starts outside a house, with birdsong in the background. Then the camera moves inside and a voice singing becomes audible, music playing in one of the rooms. Inside this room lie four young men in a row, clad in jeans, some without their shirts, surrounded by blood. At first it appeared like the aftermath of an orgy of violence in some slasher flick, made in the tradition of the first Blair Witch movie. Their hands and feet are tied with washing line. Their throats are slit. Bullet wounds yawn from their heads. Blood is sprayed on the ceiling in an arterial pattern. A fifth body lies a short distance away. In the next room there is yet another body, bound and shot in the head. In the passage the camera stops at a bloody knife lying on a coffee table. The kitchen tells in red of a struggle which could only have ended badly. In the bathroom, the overzealous FX guy had apparently deposited everything left in his blood kit. The sobs of the relatives and the trembling shoulders, however, shattered the illusion. This was not fake blood. This was a persons life coagulating on the bathroom tiles. The young men lying in pools of scarlet did not get up on their own after the footage was shot. They left in body bags.

Shell casing from gun, crime scene
Shell casing from gun, crime scene
 

Woest and Theys watched the police video with interest, and did not appear moved by what they had seen. However, at the end of the day, Theys requested to be moved to another prison, since he feared some form of reprisal from Woest.

Knife used in massacre
Knife used in massacre
 

During the following days the state called a number of witnesses to testify. A forensic pathologist, Dr Denise Lourens, testified that only Aubrey Otgaars cut was potentially fatal, as his carotid artery had been injured. Mark Hamilton described his discovery of the bodies, sometimes struggling with his emotions. Sgt. Ismail Jacobs testified as the first officer on the scene. A man who lived in the same building as Woest and had often shared the elevator with him, stated that he and his friend had been awoken by gunshots during the night of January 20, 2003, and had seen two men with yellow balaclavas over their heads and pistols in their hands, running down the road. This was confirmed by a second man, who had been sitting in a car with his fiancée in Marais Road, which forms a T-junction with Graham Road, on the night of the massacre. They had also heard gunshots and had seen two men with yellow balaclavas and dark clothes running in a calculated, meticulous manner towards a BMW, in which they had driven away without switching on the headlights.

Another shell casing from gun
Another shell casing from gun
 

The two accused remained impassive throughout the testimony. Theys stared out before him, while Woest would periodically watch the witnesses as they testified.

On Monday, 26-year-old Quinton Taylor, at the time still in the Witness Protection Program and identified only as Witness 74, took the stand. Behind him, a police officer armed with an automatic assault rifle stood guard, and more plainclothes detectives were interspersed among the attendees. Quinton spoke calmly and frequently looked at the two defendants. Theys did not meet his eyes, but Woest stared back at times.

Quinton said that it had appeared as if Woest knew the owner of Sizzlers, since he had used Otgaars first name and they had spoken as friends. Once the true nature of their visit had become known, Quinton described Woest as the one in charge, while Theys had been in the room with the masseurs most of the time. Before the violence started, Woest made a phone call about some kind of lift, something Woests attorney later said his client would deny. When it became clear that this ride was not going to materialize, Woest became increasingly aggravated, opening his shirt and perspiring profusely. Quintons belief was that Woest was angry because they failed to find whatever they had been looking for. A short while later, Woest and Theys entered the room with knives and began cutting the men. According to the Cape Argus of March 9, 2004, Quinton stated that Theys had cut with hesitancy and had appeared more compassionate. Woest was described as the voice who gave the orders. Theys apparently told Woest to relax and to calm down.

Knife used in massacre
Knife used in massacre
 

Quinton is deaf in his left ear as a result of the gunshots to his head. At the time of the trial he still suffered from insomnia and post-traumatic stress disorder. He told the court, I dont understand why people do what they do. He believes that he survived because he refused to be bound on his stomach, wanting to look his murderers in the eye. As a result, he believes, Theys did not make as deep and messy an incision.

Woests attorney cross-examined, and stated that his client had been sniffing during the attack because he had been crying. Quinton replied that he had not seen Woest crying. I will say this: Theys was much more compassionate than Woest, he was quoted in Die Burger of March 9, 2004.

And with this, the state closed its case, having called only a handful of its available 89 witnesses. State advocate Anthony Stephen submitted the psychiatric reports, declaring that the defendants were capable of comprehending the wrongfulness of their actions.

The defense was a pretty pathetic affair, since both accused refrained from testifying. Theys attorney, Nehemiah Ballem, still believed on Tuesday afternoon that his client would be testifying, but on Wednesday morning he refused. Ballem did allude to the involvement of some third party, whether a person or a group. According to a March 10, 2004, article on Independent On-Line, Ballem told the court that Theys fears someone and is afraid to talk. I have explained the implications to him, and he accepted it.

Judge Erasmus was not in a particularly sympathetic mood. His response, quoted in the same article, was that once you have made your bed, you must sleep in it, nightmares and all.

The judge did ask the attorney whether homophobia could have been involved, since Theys stated in his confession that he "had a girlfriend who is 20 years old, but she broke my heart with another woman. He had said this right before he described his decision to steal his brothers gun for the robbery. Ballem claimed that this had been a typographical error. He referred to the phone calls Woest was alleged to have made, and, in the March 10 article on Independent On-Line, said that there is something more than what we know, thats why I wanted Theys to testify. We do not know the full truth.

Mornay Calitz, for Woest, contended in his closing that there had been a struggle with Gregory Berghaus, during which the man had been shot. It had been then that the robbery escalated into murder and finally a massacre. Judge Erasmus pointed out that there was no physical evidence supporting such a contention, and that forensic evidence indicated that Berghaus had not been shot at close range. He asked Calitz why Berghaus throat had been cut if his death had been accidental, to which the attorney had no reply.

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