Vermeulen v S

Supreme Court of Appeal -347/2003 Hearing date: 13 May 2004
  Judgment date: 24 May 2004
Whether s 51(3) of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 105 of 1997 applies, and whether there are substantial and compelling circumstances in terms of that section.

Media Summary of Judgment

From: The Registrar, Supreme Court of Appeal

Please note that the media summary is intended for the benefit of the media and does not form part of the judgment of the Supreme Court of Appeal.


[1] On Monday 24 May 2004 the Supreme Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal brought by a 23 year old farmer, Daniёl Vermeulen, against a life sentence imposed on him by the Pretoria High Court for the gruesome killing of a man who was collecting firewood on his farm.

[2] The appellant came upon the deceased and a certain Mr Nkosi. They were collecting firewood on the farm. He asked them to leave or else. He then went home and returned with his brother. Both were armed. They confronted the two men and started assaulting them with fists. The two men fled into a nearby thick wattle bush. When the deceased re-emerged from the bush and tried to run away the appellant shot him twice. He did not die immediately.

[3] The appellant and his brother then decided to kill him and bury him under the carcass of a cow that had been recently killed. But the site chosen for this purpose was considered by them to be to open and bare and that they feared that they would be seen if they continued to bury the deceased there.

[4] The appellant and his brother then put the deceased (who was still alive) in their bakkie and drove with him to the house, where the appellant collected a pick axe and a shovel. They thereafter proceeded to a cornfield where they dug a grave in which to bury him. When the brother tried to shoot him, after the grave was completed, the appellant stopped him as he felt that the gun shot would attract attention. The appellant’s brother then took a pick axe and hit him on the head with it and the deceased died instantly. The two brothers then lifted the deceased and deposited him into the grave in a squatting position, sitting on his haunches. Unfortunately the legs or feet were catching the lip or sides of the grave. The appelant’s brother then took a pick axe and broke them and in that way cut the body to size.

[5] Both the advocates for the State and the defence agreed that the gruesome killing was planned and that the brothers acted in the execution of a common purpose and the appellant’s conduct fell within the minimum sentence provision laid down in s 51 (1) of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 107 of 1995, which makes life imprisonment was obligatory unless there were substantial or compelling circumstances, justifying the composition of a lesser sentence.

[6] In the present case the SCA found that there were none and that the life sentence imposed by the Pretoria High Court on the appellant could not be disturbed.

[7] The brother of the appellant who pleaded not guilty and was tried in another court was sentenced to 21 years by Mr Justice Els in the Pretoria High Court. The sentence was severely criticised by the State during argument but it was not on appeal before the SCA. Its merits or demerits were therefore not open for consideration by the SCA, which felt that it had to give due and sufficient weight to the intention of the legislature.

[8] The appeal was accordingly dismissed.