Broken, confused, unsure and even a little feeble is how I would describe murder accused, Francois Pretorius.
Francois appeared in the Bethal court on Friday, 27 March. He is set to face two charges of murder. The community of Bethal was shocked when they heard about the murder of Emeritus Pastor Hannes Beukes and his wife, Ibel, the previous Wednesday. It is on charges relating to these murders that Francois appeared in court.
Francois was dressed in khaki clothes that he most probably wore from the incident. The clothes were dirty and he was unshaven. He appeared to be confused as to the proceedings and would start any answer with “I am guilty.” Judge De Villers had to explain the procedures to Francois several times.
As I sat and listened to the proceedings, I could only wonder what went wrong. It would appear that Francois is telling the truth about killing the pastor and his wife, although he never said that, just “I am guilty” was all he said.
Francois gave the impression of someone that was fully aware of what he has (allegedly) done and was extremely remorseful. His main concern was that of his family and what financial implications this trial would have on his family.
I, as The Bulletin, applied for permission to have his photograph taken and he only opposed it with a plea that he would like to spare his children the embarrassment. He even stood briefly so that I could take the photo.
Francois handed himself to the police with the help of his Father in law. It would appear that he has made a full confession to a magistrate. This case would have to take the full route regardless of his statement.
Francois indicated that he would rather conduct his own defence. He waivered his right to legal aid.
Judge De Villiers explained the bail application to him in detail. At one stage she had to say that she is not yet interested in his story but only if he would like to apply for bail.
To this, he replied with weighted shoulders that he would not apply for bail. He would like to spare his family: “Anyway what should I do there.”
Francois seemed genuinely confused by the court proceedings and even enquired about the cost of a formal bail application.
Judge De Villiers said that as these charges related to a schedule 5 offence, no bail would be given unless he could prove that it would be in the interest of justice that he, Francois, be released on bail.
Francois had never been charged with anything (according to his testimony) and said that it was his first time in a courtroom.
I could not help to feel some sympathy for him as we sat in the courtroom. So many times, we have sat in the courtrooms with murderers appearing before the court only to feel the hate of the audience towards them.
In Bethal Court A there is bulletproof glass separating the audience from the court officials. It created an incredibly sad and surreal atmosphere as we, The Bulletin, were the only two people in the audience.
There was no support for Francois. The lockdown made matters worse as no one could travel to court.
There was no hatred from the back but there was no love either. There was no support. In a world where things went so horribly wrong for three people, Francois became a statistic, a number, a convict for now and definitely a broken, scared man.
Let us hope that the family and friends of DS Beukes and his wife will get some answers during this trial. Let us hope they can find closure and peace. Let us hope that justice will be done.
And for Francois, if he really carried out the deeds accredited to him, let us hope he finds forgiveness in the arms of God. If he is guilty, he will have to answer to everyone during the trial, but, above all, to his Maker.
I know that there are already a lot of stories doing the rounds and some comments that he is guilty. May I appeal to everyone that they would wait for the full trial before they judge? I sense that there will be many tales to tell after this trial.
This one is going to be an emotional trial.