Namibia: Killer Widow Gets Life Prison Term

"Like the flame to the moth, she consumed both under the guise of love - the one paying with his life, the other having to pay the price for committing murder."

With this description of killer widow Rachel Rittmann and the effect she had on the lives of the husband whose death she plotted and the lover who carried out the murder she planned, judge Christie Liebenberg yesterday started the sentencing of Rittmann and her former romantic partner Rhyno du Preez in the Windhoek High Court.

Du Preez and Rittmann's husband, Rudolph Rittmann, were both attracted to her like moths drawn to a flame, and for both men, this attraction had devastating consequences, judge Liebenberg commented.

Rudolph Rittmann (34) was murdered in his and his wife's home at Gobabis during the evening of 23 August 2013, when Du Preez stabbed him to death.

During his and Rachel Rittmann's trial, Du Preez admitted his role in the murder, and told the court that the killing had been suggested and planned by Rachel, and that she assisted him by fetching and handing to him the knife that he used to kill her husband.

The two former lovers will have to pay a high price for their involvement in the plot to murder Rudolph Rittmann, they heard at the end of their sentencing.

Judge Liebenberg sentenced Rittmann (49) to life imprisonment on a charge of murder, while Du Preez (35) was sentenced to a 30-year jail term on that count.

On a charge of obstructing the course of justice - flowing from their efforts to conceal the murder and destroy evidence of the crime - the judge sentenced Rittmann and Du Preez each to eight years' imprisonment. He directed that half of that sentence should be served concurrently with the sentence on the murder charge.

In effect, that leaves Rittmann with a sentence of life imprisonment, which the Namibian prison authorities regard as a period of at least 25 years behind bars before the sentenced prisoner would be eligible to be considered for release on parole.

Du Preez was sentenced to an effective period of 34 years in jail. Depending on his behaviour in prison, he could be considered for release on parole after he has served two-thirds of that sentence.

Judge Liebenberg also sentenced them to three years' imprisonment each on a charge of conspiring to commit murder, while Rittmann received an additional jail term of one year for having stolen the wallet and cellphone of her husband. Those sentences were ordered to be served concurrently with the sentence on the murder charge.

Rittmann is the first woman in more than 21 years to be sentenced to life imprisonment in Namibia. The most recent previous term of life imprisonment imposed on a woman was meted out in the Windhoek High Court in 1998.

Judge Liebenberg recounted during the sentencing that Rudolph Rittmann was "virtually ambushed by his wife and taken by surprise while asleep in bed at home, a place where he was supposed to feel safe". He was brutally attacked, and stood no chance against the attackers, who mercilessly stabbed him to death, the judge also noted.

After the murder, Rittmann and Du Preez cleaned the bloody crime scene and loaded Rudolph Rittmann's body into his bakkie, with which Du Preez then drove towards Windhoek, before setting the vehicle, with the body still inside, on fire next to the road in an attempt to stage a scene that would have made it appear as if Rudolph Rittmann had died in a car accident.

Judge Liebenberg also remarked that Rittmann was "clearly unperturbed" by her involvement in the killing of her husband, and that she first took on the role of a caring wife trying to establish the whereabouts of her missing husband, before playing the role of a grieving widow while secretly meeting her lover in Windhoek.

"These facts sadly paint the picture of a heartless and egocentric person who was willing to commit murder, only to advance her personal agenda," judge Liebenberg said.

The evidence indicated that the motive behind their decision to murder Rudolph Rittmann was that Rachel wanted to get an inheritance after his death and benefit from life assurance payouts following his demise, the judge noted.

Although Du Preez was the main perpetrator during the actual killing, Rachel Rittmann was the mastermind behind the murder and was instrumental in preparing and setting the scene, and in contrast to Du Preez, she expressed no remorse over the crime during the trial, the judge also said.

Rittmann and Du Preez have been kept in custody for more than six years following their arrest about a week after the murder. He was mindful of the time they have already spent in jail, but in the circumstances of their case, lengthy prison terms were inescapable, judge Liebenberg said.

Rittmann was represented by defence lawyer Johan van Vuuren, while Ileni Gebhardt represented Du Preez. State advocate Marthino Olivier prosecuted.

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