‘Innocent’ Isaacs to appeal against Sasha conviction

CAPE ARGUS

by Karyn Maughan – High Court Reporter

SECONDS after Moegamat Yusuf Isaacs was convicted of murdering eight-year-old Sasha-Leigh Crook, he tearfully turned to the little girl’s mother and said: “I’m innocent. I didn’t kill her.” And Isaacs’s lawyer Josua Greeff told the Cape Argus yesterday that the 27-year-old former construction worker would seek leave to appeal against his Cape High Court conviction, which Greeff said was based on circumstantial evidence. Isaac’s counsel, Dirk Uijs, earlier declined to put any evidence in mitigation of sentence before the court and agreed with State Advocate Christenus van der Vijver that Sasha-Leigh’s murderer deserved a life sentence. Referring to evidence that Sasha-Leigh was probably killed four days after she disappeared outside her grandparents’ home in Ottery, Van der Vijver said it was impossible to imagine the terrible fear and emotional distress the child must have suffered before she was killed. Testifying in aggravation of sentence, Sasha-Leigh’s mother, Michelle, broke down as she described the anguish of her daughter’s eight-day disappearance and the discovery of her body in a field in Pelican Heights. Sasha Leigh was waiting to go to an early afternoon children’s birthday party, where her mother was waiting for her, on the day she disappeared. “When she wasn’t there at 3.30pm, I had this funny feeling. I knew something was wrong.” “Then my mommy arrived at the house (where the party was happening) at five o’clock and called me outside. She told me, ‘We can’t find Sasha’ and I collapsed on the drive-way’, she said, revealing that she had needed to be taken to Victoria Hospital later that night because she was suffering from anxiety-related lockjaw. In the days that followed her child’s disappearance, Crook said she did not eat and struggled to sleep. “I prayed to God that he would just let me have my baby back, even if she was dead. I just wanted my baby back,” she told the Cape Argus yesterday. Describing her daughter as a “loving, friendly, caring and joyful” little girl, Crook sobbed as she told Acting Judge Tandaswa Ndita: “Sasha-Leigh was an angel from God who was taken away from me.” Acting Judge Ndita earlier described the forensic evidence against Isaacs as the major pillar in the State’s case, which she said was largely circumstantial but supported by a small amount of direct evidence. Sasha-Leigh’s body was found with a piece of chipboard that police forensic experts matched with chipboard found at Isaac’s home, while the little girl’s blood was found on rags in a paint bucket in his garage. The judge said a confession made by Isaacs to his mother Fatiema, that he had strangled Sasha-Leigh, was consistent with the testimony of forensic experts. She rejected suggestions by Isaac’s legal team that the confession had been “conjured up” by police to bolster their shaky case against Isaacs. Police witnesses testified earlier that Isaacs had tearfully told his mother that he had “choked” Sasha-Leigh while under the influence of drugs. While pathologist Denise Louwrens testified that Sasha-Leigh’s cause of death was a stab wound to the neck, she also said that there were signs of strangulation on the child’s body. Acting Judge Ndita said it was “improbable” that the police would have invented a wrong cause of death for the little girl, or been able to include referrals to Isaac’s drug problem – which he had never previously revealed to them – in the confession. Isaacs will be sentenced in the Cape High Court tomorrow morning.