Mariette Bosch - Botswana love triangle murder.

Mariette Sonjaleen Bosch was the first white woman to be hanged in the southern African state of Botswana and the only white woman to be hanged in Africa for many years. She is the fourth woman to be executed in Botswana since independence from Britain in 1966 and went to the gallows on the 31st of March 2001.

Unlike most of the women in these pages, she was middle class and wealthy. Mariette was a tall, blonde, 50 year old mother of three who had come to Botswana from Pietersburg in South Africa and was a regular member of the Dutch Reformed Church. She and her first husband Justin, moved to Botswana in 1992, attracted by its booming economy and low crime rate. They bought a house in Phakalane, a wealthy area of the capital, Gaborone, which was popular with well off South Africans. Here they could afford to have a maid and a garden boy. Mariette's days were filled with shopping, playing bridge and visiting casinos, with weekends spent with her husband at game lodges and golf courses. She and Justin met and became friends with Maria (normally known as Ria) and Tienie Wolmarans, who lived nearby.

Justin was tragically killed in a car crash in 1995 and Ria Wolmarans comforted and helped Mariette through this difficult period. They used to bake cakes together, share the school run and even go on holiday together. At the time, however, Ria and Tienie's marriage was going through a very difficult time and it is alleged that he and Mariette had begun a passionate affair five months after Justin's death. Tienie tried to reconcile the situation with Ria and got her a job as financial director of a concrete company whose managing director was Mr. Hennie Coetzee.

The murder.
Ria Wolmarans was home alone on the night of June 26th, 1996 as Tienie was working away at the time. She almost certainly knew the person that killed her and probably let them in voluntarily as there was no sign of forced entry. She had been making a cup of tea when she was shot and the tea tray and its contents were found beside her body. Two 9mm bullets had been fired at her. She was found by her daughter, Maryna, later that evening. It looked like a burglary that had gone tragically wrong.

Police initially had no clues to the killing and made no arrests for three months.

Tienie and Mariette rented a house a month after Ria's death and according to them, their relationship only became serious about two months later. In September 1996, three months after the murder, they had secretly got engaged and told the families that they were going to South Africa to shop for wedding outfits.

Arrest and trial.
In early June 1996, Mariette had borrowed a 9mm Browning pistol from a friend in South Africa who had been looking after her late husband's firearm collection, on the basis that she wanted to do some target shooting. Bringing a firearm into Botswana was a criminal offence in itself.
Mariette made two mistakes that were to provide crucial evidence against her. She had told Judith Bosch, her sister-in-law who still lived in South Africa, that she was in love with Tienie and that they wanted to marry. She also gave the gun to Judith's husband after the murder.
Judith Bosch remembered a phone call she received from a friend on the morning after the murder, informing her of Ria's death. She asked the friend about the murder weapon and was told that it was a 9mm automatic pistol. The friend who was looking after the family's firearm collection had earlier told Judith that Mariette had wanted to borrow one of the guns. When Judith found out about the killing and the weapon used, she persuaded Mariette to return the weapon to her. Judith Bosch then handed the gun over to the police. Forensic tests showed that the gun they recovered was the murder weapon and they arrested Mariette and Tienie on
October 7th, 1996. Tienie had a solid alibi for the night of the murder as he could prove that he had been working away.
three months after her arrest, Mariette refused to talk to the police about the gun and could not even give Tienie a cohesive reason for bringing the gun into Botswana. Eventually she made the statement naming Hennie Coetzee as the person she had brought the gun in for.
Mariette was granted bail after 10 months in custody and came to trial 18 months after the murder. She and Tienie got married in 1998 while Mariette was on bail.

Her trial opened in December 1999 at Botswana's Lobatse High Court before Justice Isaac Aboagye. As is normal in Africa, there is no jury and the judge has to find the verdict.
According to the prosecution, it was Mariette who had climbed over the wall into the Wolmarans's garden, entered the house and shot Maria. Mariette claimed to be overweight at the time of the killing and, therefore, could not have scaled the garden wall. This was rejected by the court on the basis that she could have had a set of keys.

Much of the more damning evidence against her came from her sister-in-law, Judith, regarding the gun and the affair.

Mariette admitted borrowing the gun from a friend but claims she did so after being hypnotized by Hennie Coetzee, Maria's former boss. She accused him of being the killer which he denied. It was suggested that Hennie had put some sort of drug into some wine that he and Mariette were drinking and that he then told her to get the gun and bring it to him, but not to mention it to anyone. Hennie's alleged motive was that Ria had uncovered financial irregularities in his company and that these would be revealed at a forthcoming audit.

For the defence, it was pointed out that there was no direct forensic evidence linking Mariette to the murder - there were no fingerprints on the gun, nor in Ria's home. It was also suggested by their expert witness, psychiatrist Dr Louise Olivier, that Mariette did not have a killer's profile and could not lie. This was dismissed by Justice Aboagye as of no consequence.

Mariette's alibi was that she had been at home all evening and this was verified by her daughters but rebutted by her maid who said that Mariette had gone out around 8.00 p.m.

There was, thus, a strong circumstantial case against Mariette, with no dispute about the fact that she brought the murder weapon into the country, a strong probability that she and Tienie were having an affair before Ria was killed, a disputed alibi for the night of the crime and a very clear motive. On the other hand her defence was, to put it mildly, rather fanciful. Not surprisingly therefore on the 21st of February 2000, the judge found her guilty and rejected any claim that she had acted under the influence of another (which would have allowed him to pass the alternative sentence of life in prison).

He said it would be difficult to find a crime more devoid of anything that could reduce blameworthiness of the accused person.

"I have searched the trial records to find anything, however minute, to reduce your blameworthiness," he told her. "I have not been able to find anything. The crime was carefully planned with the motive of enabling you to take over the husband of the deceased. It was committed with no mercy for the innocent victim. You desired to eliminate the deceased in order to be able to marry her husband. I have no doubt the crime was premeditated." It took 30 minutes for Justice Isaac Aboagye to deliver his full judgment and at the end, asked Mariette if she had anything to say before she was sentenced.

She replied: "I am not guilty, you are My Lord, sentencing a woman for something she did not do." He then adjourned the court for five minutes before returning to pass sentence on her. The court rose and donning the black cap, he told her: "You will be returned to prison and there be hanged by the neck until you are dead. Your body will be buried in such a place as the State President may determine. May the Lord have mercy on your soul."

Her older daughter Charmaine, 20, was stunned by the verdict and sentence and had to be comforted by relatives while her younger daughter, 14 year old Soné, tried to chase after her mother as she was led from the court under guard, but was not allowed contact.

Mariette was taken back to Gaborone Central Prison and placed in solitary confinement on death row to await her appeal.
Although Mariette had been given the death sentence, it was not felt by Tienie and her family that it would ever be carried out as they expected to win on appeal. Tienie maintained the allegations against Hennie Coetzee, although no evidence was found of the supposed financial irregularities at the subsequent audit.

A provision put in place when Botswana became independent from Britain in1966 gave condemned prisoners the right of appeal to the Botswana Appeals Court which comprises judges from England, Scotland, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Nigeria. The members of the Appeal Court, which sits twice a year in January and July of each year, included Judge President Timothy Aguda from Nigeria, Sir John Blofeld from England and Lord Weir from Scotland.

Accompanied by 15 members of the Botswana prison guard and police force, Mariette, who had turned 50 the week before, entered the packed court promptly at 9.30 a.m. on the morning of the 18th of January. She blew a discreet kiss towards Tienie Wolmarans and sat down to listen to the proceedings. The year Mariette had spent on death row had taken a considerable toll on her, she looked gaunt and had aged considerably. She was wearing a lilac blouse which appeared too big for her, a little make up and had hair in a ponytail.

The case against Mariette was presented by Botswana's assistant Attorney General, Lizo Ngcongo. He told the court "We are talking about a woman who decided in advance that the deceased was an obstacle to her amorous relationship with Tienie Wolmarans and would have to be got rid of."
Ngcongo said Mariette and her daughter Charmaine had contradicted themselves in testimony during her trial and this proved that the High Court had been right in finding her guilty. "This (the contradictions) affected the plausibility of the entire defence."
He also said that Mariette had lied about her alibi on the night of Wolmarans' murder.
Ngcongo said she claimed to have been at home but that this had been denied by her maid. Furthermore, he said, Mariette had told the court that she had left the murder weapon at a police post on the South African side of the border and then later said she had given the weapon to state witness Hennie Coetzee. Neither of which statements were true.
For her defence top
London barrister, Desmond da Silva, argued that the trial was flawed because Hennie Coetzee was given immunity for testifying against Mariette without the court or defence being informed.  "The witness had demanded and got an immunity which did not even specify he had to tell the truth as far as I can see," he said. "It is astonishing."

Evidence that Mariette had a dependant and vulnerable personality and was easily suggestible was presented at the appeal. The crucial point was who, if anybody, influenced Mariette to commit the crime. Was it Hennie Coetzee or Tienie or someone else? We shall never know the answer to this or indeed to who actually fired the fatal shots.
On the 29th of January, the
Appeal Court gave its judgment which lasted for nearly two hours. Acting Judge President Timothy Aguda told the court that "She is a wicked and despicable woman. The murder had been planned over a long period, no doubt as a result of jealousy and infatuation. It involved traveling to South Africa where she collected a gun and she illegally brought it into the country."

The appeal was thus denied. Mariette was visibly shocked when the three Appeal Court judges delivered their ruling. Tienie Wolmarans, was too upset to speak and admitted that there was little hope of a reprieve.

After the appeal was dismissed her lawyer, Edward Fashole Luke II, began preparing an appeal for clemency for Mariette. Where the death sentence is upheld on appeal, the case is considered by the Advisory Committee on the Prerogative of Mercy, which advises the president on the exercise of his prerogative. The president of Botswana, Festus Mogae said, while on a visit to London on March 29th, that he would not consider granting Mariette clemency however. It was, therefore, up to Botswana's commissioner of prisons, Joseph Orebotse, to arrange for the sentence to be carried out. It was to be the first hanging there since that of five men in August 1995.

Mariette spent her days on death row wearing a brown prison dress, in a single cell with just a mattress and a bucket. The standard prison food included tripe and morogo. She is reported to have had nightmares about standing on the gallows while strangers around her whispered in a language she could not understand.

On Friday the 30th of March, Mariette's death warrant was read to her and she was informed that her execution would take place in the early hours of Saturday. She was not permitted any visitors or to say goodbye to her family, nor was she allowed a special last meal. She was apparently counseled, wrote letters to Tienie and her children and prayed. Sedatives are not offered to condemned prisoners, as was also the case in Britain.
A minister of the church, the prison doctor and prison officials witnessed the hanging which was carried out British style at 6.00 a.m. that morning. Executions in Botswana are carried out in complete secrecy (just as they were in Britain) and no details whatsoever are released and no advance warning of an execution is normally given. After death her body was buried in the prison cemetery.

Tienie Wolmarans had made an appointment three weeks previously to visit Mariette on the Friday. This appointment had been confirmed by the prison officials but when he phoned them on the Friday morning, he was told by a senior official that they were busy with an inspection and that all visitors for the day had been postponed. Instead, he was told to come back on the following Monday. This he and her daughters did and were met by prison officials, including the assistant district commissioner, who told them that Mariette had been hanged on Saturday. He, and their daughters Soné and Charmaine, broke down completely at this news. Fifteen minutes later prison guards gave them Mariette's personal belongings and told them to leave.

On the Monday when the execution was announced, Botswana's permanent secretary at the ministry of foreign affairs, Ernest Mpofu, said that the law did not provide for a condemned person to be allowed a last visit by his or her family before the execution.
"Partly because of the controversy this particular case was generating, he (the commissioner) used his judgment. It would not be in their interest to bring in the family."
He also told reporters that "there were allegations that the South African government was going to send a formal note asking for clemency, but we did not receive anything". "There was nothing in writing. If he phoned the president, I'm not aware of it." Neither South Africa nor any foreign government had officially protested against the execution. Once the president had refused clemency, it was up to the commissioner of prisons to make the necessary arrangements for the hanging, without consulting further."

When Tienie was refused access to Mariette on the Friday, he had contacted Anne Schofield, his British lawyer, who was still working on the documents needed to make an application to Botswana's clemency commission for a stay of execution. The documents were nearly completed and were expected to be ready to fax through to Wolmarans's lawyers in Gaborone on Monday morning. Whether they would have considered them is however debatable as they had already reached their decision.

After the execution, Tienie Wolmarans was interviewed by the South African media and commented: "The manner in which Mariette was executed was totally and completely indecent. I cannot fathom the reason for it. We had filed a petition for clemency. It was a preliminary petition in which we made clear to President Mogae that we needed time to prepare a full petition. We also told him that we were arranging for a psychiatrist to evaluate Mariette's state of mind."

"My lawyers did not even have time to write the report before Mariette was executed," he said. "We received a letter - myself, Soné, Charmaine and Anton. It was addressed to us from Mariette. Inside was a short note to each of us. She had not even been allowed to write it herself. She had been told to dictate it. She said that they (the prison authorities) did not want her to see us on Friday."

"I believe that the story they told us about an inspection was a lie. They will probably make up anything now. I found out that the pastor who was visiting her every week was not allowed to see her on Friday. Mariette had nobody to comfort her, nobody to try and help her, to be with her in her final hours. She was denied the common decency of being allowed to talk to a priest. I cannot even begin to imagine what she must have gone through."

The execution, only two months after Mariette's appeal, is an all time record for Botswana where the time between sentence and execution is normally from nine months to several years. It is generally thought to have been carried out so quickly because of the growing international controversy over the case and increasing pressure from various human rights groups. Prior notice of executions is not given to the media.

Botswana has maintained a 1950's version of English law since its independence in 1973 and the death sentence is mandatory upon conviction for murder. Its legal system does not recognise degrees of murder.  There is an automatic right of appeal to a panel of Commonwealth judges who are drawn from various countries (including Scotland in this case). Once the appeal has been turned down, the final decision for clemency rests solely with the president, Festus Mogae.

Botswana has hanged 30 men and four women over the 28 years from 1973 to 2001. Clemency is rarely recommended by the Appeal Committee on the Prerogative of Mercy which advises the President. The death penalty is strongly supported by the Botswanan population who enjoy a very low murder rate, especially when compared to neighbouring South Africa which has an appalling one.

There are several aspects to Mariette Bosch's case that need to be examined against this background.

While one may feel that the death sentence, in her case, was too severe, the local population in this democratic and strongly religious country wholeheartedly supported it.

She appears to have had "due process" - a fair trial and a proper appeal and there are no allegations that she was in anyway maltreated or forced to confess to something she hadn't done.

One of the allegations by her lawyers and the human rights groups is that she was executed with indecent haste and there would appear to some truth in this, in as much as the Botswanan authorities clearly were expecting further international pressure and protests if they had announced the execution date in advance.

While one would agree that to not allow her to say goodbye to her husband and family was cruel in one sense, it did save them from having to live through the hours and minutes leading up to her execution and from the difficult and emotional farewells both of which would surely have been an enormous emotional strain. It is hard to see any advantage to Mariette in delaying the execution any further. Her appeal was heard and turned down in the January and the president ruled against clemency on the Thursday so her death warrant was read to her on the Friday and the execution was carried out on the Saturday morning. Surely this is less cruel than making her wait for months or years and then telling her the execution date three months in advance, as happened to Karla Faye Tucker in Texas. A person in this position would think of little else once the date had been set. As it was, Mariette said that she had nightmares about her execution. It is also far less cruel than making her go through the setting of an execution date and then granting a stay hours before it is due and then making her go through the whole process again and again before finally executing her 10 years later as often happens in the USA. I doubt that conditions on death row in Gaborone Central prison are of the sort that most of us would want to spend too much time in.

Hanging in Botswana follows the British method so it is probable that she was at least given a quick death.

Sadly, Mariette had no real defence other than some rather fanciful theories and against the strong, albeit, circumstantial evidence, so it was not surprising that on the balance of probabilities she was found guilty.

Her case received huge publicity in the South African media and also in the press in other English speaking countries, as capital cases involving white middle class women are nowadays a rarity.

Should she have been reprieved? It is difficult to see any real reason why the president should have reprieved her, or politically, could have done so. How can it be right to reprieve this prisoner because she is white while executing others who are black. (Botswana had hanged three black women.) How would their relatives feel if Mariette had been reprieved purely because she was white? Inverted racism may also have played a part in the decision to execute Mariette because she was a wealthy white living in a black country.

Whether or not Mariette deserved death for this murder is a matter of personal opinion - but let us not forget Ria Wolmerans, did she deserve to be deceived and abandoned by her husband and to die by shooting because she was a bar to Mariette's and Tienie's relationship? She too had human rights.

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