The woman who stole Zephany Nurse from her mother’s arms in hospital will know her fate on Monday.
While the teen’s biological family wants the kidnapper to sit for “at least 30 years”, the State yesterday called for a sentence of 15 years imprisonment, with a portion suspended.
The 52-year-old Seawinds woman, who cannot be named to protect the identity she gave Zephany, was convicted of kidnapping, fraud and contravening the Children’s Act in March.
The woman snatched three-day-old Zephany from her mother’s hospital bedside on April 30, 1997.
The infant had been born via caesarean section to Morné and Celeste Nurse on April 28 at the Groote Schuur Hospital.
Yesterday, the court heard final arguments in the sensational case which has made international headlines since the girl’s true identity was revealed in February last year.
Defence lawyer Reaz Khan asked the court not to “approach punishment in the spirit of anger”.
He said the public wanted vengeance and this was understandable as the accused did not plead guilty and showed no remorse.
He acknowledged the Nurse family had suffered trauma and continue to suffer, but said the court should consider the accused’s personal circumstances and argued that she had suffered trauma herself, as a child and an adult.
He said that mitigating factors included her age, her ill health – she’s diabetic – and the fact that she was a first-time offender.
The accused had also not bad-mouthed the Nurses, as the State argued.
“Morné Nurse said the accused indoctrinated Zephany, but there is no evidence of that,” said Khan.
He said that the accused’s removal from Zephany had not led to the teenager’s reunification with her biological parents.
And while the State had argued that the accused was manipulative, Khan said that “the court must take into account that she didn’t hide the child from the community. She enrolled her in school”.
But Western Cape High Court Judge John Hlophe dismissed this argument and said the crime had been premeditated: “She gave the child a different name and still hasn’t told her the truth.”
He said the accused should have pleaded guilty “rather than waste the court’s time”.
State Prosecutor Evadne Kortje said the accused “has reaped the benefits of Zephany Nurse as being her own for 17 years”.
“She has come to court and said she spoilt her, looked after her, therefore I am special. That is not the case. She has been found guilty of serious offences.”
Kortje said the effects of the crime could never be completely undone, and the biological parents had been deprived of their natural rights.
“It cannot be condoned within society that women go into hospitals and help themselves to babies. This is what the accused did in this case,” said the prosecutor.
“One can’t sentence in anger, but this is a horrible set of unique facts.”
Kortje said the accused’s lack of remorse and empathy was “shocking to say the least”.
The accused had kept “a grave, illegal secret” and lied to the people she loved most.
She called for direct imprisonment to reflect the severity of the crime – “15 years with some suspended would not be inappropriate.”
“She totally erased the identity of Zephany Nurse in her actions.”
Judge Hlophe said the accused had missed “a golden opportunity” to return the child when her birthday was celebrated and broadcast on national TV every year.
The Nurses’ 17-year search for their missing daughter finally ended last year, when their younger daughter Cassidy started high school at the same school as Zephany.
Classmates remarked on the sisters’ striking resemblance and when Cassidy told her father, he contacted the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks).
DNA tests revealed the matric girl was indeed Zephany Nurse, and the accused was arrested in February last year.