“The offences that the accused has been convicted of are severe. It is unclear how the accused acquired the .22 rifle used to commit the crimes.
“THE KILLING of farmers and farmworkers is deplorable and must be frowned upon at all times.”
These were words of Northern Cape High Court Judge Mpho Mamosebo during the sentencing of a 35-year-old Griekwastad farmworker, Willem Olyn, on Friday.
Olyn was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of his former employer, Willem van der Westhuizen.
Van der Westhuizen died on his farm Bont Heuwel after he was shot in the head with a .22 rifle by Olyn.
Olyn was found guilty on 13 charges, including murder, attempted murder, the pointing of a firearm, theft, negligent driving, unlawful possession of a firearm and unlawful possession of ammunition.
He was further sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment for attempted murder, four years for unlawful possession of a firearm, three years for theft, three years for negligent driving, two years for unlawful possession of ammunition and 18 months for pointing a firearm.
Mamosebo ruled that all the sentences would run concurrently with the life sentence for the murder charge.
She said she could not find any mitigating and substantial circumstances to deviate from the prescribed minimum sentence, although Olyn’s lawyer argued that his upbringing had been “challenging”.
“The uncle of the accused testified in his mitigation. The uncle is the brother of the accused’s mother, who passed away more than 10 years ago. The accused was raised by his maternal grandmother and the father of the accused is unknown, which meant he never played a role in the accused’s life. The family of the accused are dependent on seasonal farming work. The uncle indicated that he was shocked when the investigating officer told him about the charges against the accused as he did not know him (the accused) to be violent. The uncle indicated to the court that the accused was the only child of his sister and he pleaded with the court for a lenient sentence,” Mamosebo said.
She stated that the aggravating circumstances by far outweighed the personal circumstances of the accused.
“The accused opted not to testify. He maintained his innocence until the end. The defence argued that the fact that the accused had grown up without a father should be regarded as a compelling and substantial factor. The defence also requested the court to disregard the previous criminal record of the accused, which are mainly crimes of housebreaking and theft, as they were committed more than 10 years ago. The State, however, argued that there were no mitigating factors present and that all offences against the accused were serious. What is more aggravating is that a firearm was used in the offence and the accused was unprovoked.
“The deceased, on the day of the incident, requested the accused to evacuate the farm as he was causing trouble among the other workers. The accused killed his employer in cold blood by inflicting multiple gunshots to his head and neck. The death of the deceased left the employees destitute.”
Mamosebo said that Olyn had acted like a raging bull on the day of the incident.
“The deceased was a defenceless victim who died from multiple wounds without provoking the accused. Over and above the murder that the accused committed, he committed further offences against his employer and his property. At no stage did the accused show any remorse for his actions and even maintained his innocence. He did not take any responsibility for his actions and even fabricated evidence in an attempt to escape the consequences.”
She added that Van der Westhuizen’s death had devastating effects on, and major lifestyle repercussions for, his family.
“The sister of the deceased told the court that they were still traumatised by the incident. The deceased was the only son of six siblings. He cared for his parents and his siblings as well as their children. The sister said she had to relocate with her family in order to take care of their parents as their health had deteriorated following the death of their son. One of the sisters had to undergo counselling as a result of the effects of the death of their brother, while another sister had to consult a medical doctor. She said their mother still kept the clothes and toiletries of the deceased as he had left them on the day he died,” said Mamosebo.
She added that the incident also left one of the farm workers, who was also shot and injured by Olyn, with lifelong medical challenges.
“One of the victims, Dion Barends, now has an uncertain future as he still has a bullet lodged in his body. Barends is now left with physical and emotional scars.
“The accused further denied that he had stolen the bakkie of the deceased. He claimed he found it idling in the veld and drove it when he was fleeing from shots that were being fired. This dishonesty shows his disrespect for other people’s property. The accused not only drove the bakkie but overturned and damaged it. Driving on a gravel road to flee from law enforcement officers was irresponsible and bordered on being reckless. The accused also posed a danger to the farm workers who make use of that road on a daily basis.”
She stated that due to the seriousness of the crimes, direct incarceration could not be deviated from.
“The offences that the accused has been convicted of are severe. It is unclear how the accused acquired the .22 rifle used to commit the crimes. What is undeniable, however, is that he was in unlawful possession of the rifle and fired shots from it that killed one person and also used it in an attempt to kill another person. The unlawful possession of such a firearm warrants direct imprisonment,” Mamosebo said.