Stiff sentences loom for Berry murderers

Sherwin Grootboom, 25, left, and Gregory Malie, 34, are guilty of killing Sean Berry
Picture: Eugene Coetzee

The prospect of harsh sentences for two convicted murderers were raised when shocking gang-related crime statistics and a decline in shootings in the Bethelsdorp area, from where the two men had been removed, were presented in court yesterday.

Last month, Gregory Malie, 34, and Sherwin Grootboom, 25, were convicted in the Port Elizabeth High Court of the June 2016 murder of Sean “Nako” Berry.

Berry was shot dead a month after the fatal shooting of his brother, notorious gang kingpin Donovan “Staal” Berry.

In his judgment, Judge Dayalin Chetty said it was evident that Sean had been targeted after tensions flared between the accused and the Berry family after they forced the accused out of the area.

They were also forced off a property, well known as a local drug den, and owned by Staal.

Testifying during aggravation of sentencing argument yesterday, Captain Rio Kriel, of the provincial gang unit, said that between January 1 2016 and December 31 2016 – the year the Berry brothers were murdered – there had been 49 gang-related murders in the Bethelsdorp area.

During the same period there were 50 attempted murders and 29 gang-related arrests for the illegal possession of firearms and ammunition.

During 2016 there were four shooting murders in Barends Street – the street where Staal operated his drug business.

Kriel said there had been no further gang-related shootings in that street since. The Berry brothers’ mother, Marie, testified that since Sean’s murder she had been admitted to hospital at least once for hypertension as a direct result of losing both sons in one year.

She said Sean’s son, who had witnessed his father being gunned down, had left school because he could not cope and had been seeing a psychologist.

The son was not named for safety reasons.

Sean was killed on Father’s Day, a few houses from his home.

In mitigation, Malie’s defence advocate, Jodine Coertzen, asked the court to consider deviating from the prescribed life sentence for murder because of Malie’s socioeconomic circumstances and the fact that he had been awaiting trial since his arrest in June 2016.

Grootboom’s advocate, Peet Schoonraad, also asked for leniency, claiming Staal’s death had severely traumatised him.

The eviction and banning from the area where he had been a drug peddler for Staal, had had an emotional impact on him.

Prosecutor Liesel Landman said neither accused had accepted responsibility for the murder or shown any remorse.

“The state’s submission is that there is nothing exceptional about their circumstances – 99% of the [Bethelsdorp] community are or have been going through the same [socioeconomic] difficulties,” she said.

Sentencing in the matter will be tomorrow.

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