Cape Town – The Western Cape High Court has sentenced a foster mother to 30 years direct imprisonment for murdering nine-month-old Caswell Joseph Frans.
The court further declared her unfit to work with children, unfit to possess a firearm and ordered her name be recorded in the National Child Protection Register.
Priscilla Morris, 41, from Vrygrond, was convicted on two counts of child abuse, murder and defeating or obstructing the court of justice.
Morris entered into a plea and sentencing agreement with the state.
She told the court the child’s mother, Candice Frans, approached her to look after him. At the time, the mother was staying in a field and struggling with her parental responsibilities, at the time, the baby was only a month and two weeks old.
Although the arrangement between the biological mother and Morris was private and casual, a social worker was involved who visited Morris’ Wendy house and found it suitable for the child.
The court heard that Morris did not disclose she had chronic health conditions and was on prescribed anti-depressants.
She told the court when little Caswell was six months old, his cry became persistent, and she viewed him as a ‘difficult baby’ and ‘naughty’.
The court heard how little Caswell was hit when he cried because Morris became frustrated.
She said she could not remember where she hit the child but remembered he sported bruises on his body.
Days before Christmas last year, his body was found on December 20, 2021. Morris had wrapped him in a bag and buried him in a shallow grave on a field in Vrygrond.
Morris assaulted little Caswell and threw water in his face, resulting in his death.
The court heard that after murdering Caswell, Morris still went to collect the child’s Social Security Agency of South Africa (Sassa) grant.
After burying him in his shallow grave, she went home and continued with her normal chores as if nothing had happened.
Morris also lied to her son about the whereabouts of Caswell. She said the child was in hospital.
According to the evidence before the court, on December 20, 2021, when Morris went for a routine consultation at the False Bay Hospital, her sisters and others reported what happened to the child to their aunt, who contacted the police.
When police found little Caswell, his body was already decomposing.
State prosecutor Advocate Evadne Kortje told the court little Caswell endured various assaults during his short life and said the cause of death was blunt force trauma.
“She subjected the deceased to various assaults during his short life, and the cause of death of the deceased was multiple blunt force trauma. The pain, suffering and agony of the defenceless baby is shocking, horrific, and inhumane. The normalisation of child murders in our country and specifically in the Western Cape is shocking,” Kortje argued.
She also submitted Victim Impact Statements from Caswell’s biological parents, who continue to struggle to cope with the loss of their child.
The parents cannot comprehend how a defenceless baby was hurt.
Caswell’s grandfather told the court if Morris was struggling, why did she not just return the child?
Caswell’s aunt, Melanie Ramos, shared the same sentiments with the court and expressed her disappointment and devastation by Morris’ actions.
Ramos regularly assisted with money for milk and diapers. She further stated she is of the view that the Department of Social Development (DSD) failed in not returning her nephew to their family when they were able to take care of him.
The court sentenced Morris to five years imprisonment for each count of child abuse, 25 years imprisonment for murder and 10 years imprisonment for defeating or obstructing the court of justice.
The court further ordered the five-year sentence for defeating or obstruction of justice to run concurrently with the sentence imposed for murder.
The two sentences imposed for child abuse were also ordered to run concurrently with the sentence imposed for murder.
She will effectively serve 30 years in prison.
The Director of Public Prosecutions in the Western Cape, Advocate Nicolette Bell, welcomed the sentence.