TWO RUTHLESS KILLERS

YASSIEM HARRIS AND SANDRA SMITH: 1986


On 1 September, 1986, Mrs Sandra Smith (22) and her lover, Yassiem Harris (19), throttled and stabbed to death Jermaine Abrahams, a sixteen year-old school-girl, at her Mitchell's Plain home.

Sandra Smith and Yassiem Harris first met in 1983. At the time, Smith, who was married and had two children, lived with her parents in Mitchell's Plain. Her husband was a fisherman who was away at sea for long periods of time but sent money home on a regular basis. Harris lived nearby.

One day in September or October 1983, Harris received a note and some money from Smith. The note said that she wanted to meet him in a park. At the subsequent meeting she told him how much she 'admired' him. “She also asked if I wanted to sleep over because her husband had left with the ship,” Harris said. “The first night I got into bed with her and that's how the relationship started.” Yassiem Harris was almost 17-years-old when he met Sandra Smith. He smoked dagga, took mandrax and had been a juvenile delinquent since the age of 13. He had left school at fifteen while in Standard 6, in order to get a job to supplement the family income. His first job was working alongside his father at a car-sound specialist in Claremont, Cape Town, but he was dismissed after six months when it was discovered that he had stolen R 10 000 in cash, and cheques totalling R26,000. He was convicted and received six cuts with the cane. The hiding, his father claimed, 'made no impression on him'.

From that point on, Harris' gradual descent into a life of unemployment and crime became almost inevitable. He drifted from job to job, became a member of a gang called the Hard Livings and, not long afterwards, was arrested a second time for breaking into a school. He got another six cuts but that also 'did not make any impression on him,' his father said.

Harris secretly slept with Smith every night at her parents' home, and not long after they met she started giving him money. “It was, I would say, to attract my attention,” Harris explained. “Sometimes it was R100, R50 or R80.” Not surprisingly, he soon gave up any pretence of looking for work.

After they had been seeing each other for about six months, their relationship faced its first crisis when Phillip Smith, Sandra's husband, returned from sea and learnt of his wife's affair from some neighbours. He responded by getting help from three of his friends to beat Harris up, but no sooner had he gone back to sea than Harris and his wife were together again. Even though the two of them were virtually living as man and wife, this did not prevent Harris from pursuing other women. Some mornings he used to loiter outside local high schools before school started, chatting to the school girls and making dates for the afternoon. This was how he got to know Jermaine Abrahams and learnt where she lived.

The affair between Harris and Smith continued for over two-and-a-half years. When Sandra's husband was ashore, they would stop seeing each other and then resume the relationship when he left for sea again. In 1985, Smith became pregnant for a third time and was uncertain whether the father was her husband or Harris.

The final tragic sequence of events, whichwere to end with the death of Jermaine Abrahams, to some extent began in March 1986 when Phillip Smith returned home to find his wife and Harris together again. Harris fled to avoid being beaten for a second time, and Sandra followed him - abandoning her children in the process. As far as Phillip Smith was concerned, the marriage was over and so was the free supply of money he had been providing.

For a time after the break-up of her marriage, Sandra stayed with friends in Grassy Park then, with Harris' help, she found lodgings in Mitchell's Plain. But within a few months all her money had gone and things were becoming desperate.

Smith and Harris dabbled in video fraud - hiring video machines then selling them - but on the afternoon of 31 August, they discussed breaking into the Abrahams' house, tying up Jermaine, and then stealing goods. Harris suggested this particular house because he claimed to have broken into the place a year earlier and stolen a large amount of money. He saw no reason why they shouldn't find valuable property yet again. What was more, he knew that Mr and Mrs Abrahams usually left for work before 7 a.m. and that their daughter, Jermaine, left for school at about 7.40 a.m.

The next morning, they got up very early and walked to the Abrahams’ house, arriving there around 7.30a.m. Harris knocked on the door and when Jermaine answered he asked if he could make a telephone call. According to Smith, Harris did not introduce her to Jermaine and Jermaine asked him to go to her bedroom where she could speak to him. At first Smith sat in the front room - then she became impatient. “I heard voices. I went to her bedroom because I wanted to see what was going on.”

Yassiem said: “Jermaine, Sandra and I are going to tie you up and steal things from the house. Don't tell your parents it was us.” Harris then locked the front door and put the key in his pocket. They then tied Jermaine up, but while she was on the bedroom floor lying on her stomach, someone knocked at the front door. She tried to scream for help and struggled to get free, but Harris clamped his hand over her mouth while Smith held her legs. When the knocking stopped, Harris and Smith put a dishcloth around Jermaines throat to throttle her 'so that she would become faint'. “I didn't want to pull tight on my side,” Smith said.

According to Smith, Harris then went into the kitchen and returned wearing orange kitchen gloves and carrying a knife. Harris claimed the knife was lying on the dressing table and Smith picked it up and said, “Stab her dead”.

“I just grabbed the knife out of her hand and started stabbing Jermaine continuously in the neck,” he said. “She was lying on the floor on her stomach and as I was stabbing her, she wriggled on to her back but I still went on stabbing.”

After the attack, Jermaine managed to get free and get to her feet. She took a few steps and fell over. She got up, staggered into the passage, and collapsed once more. (The police found a four-fingered print in blood on the door-frame of Jermaine's bedroom. This print was Jermaine's. A palm print, which was later identified as belonging to Sandra Smith was found on the door of the main bedroom. The position of Jermaine's print was consistent with her having attempted to break loose and grab the door. The knife, which the police discovered at the scene held no fingerprints since it was 'one mass of blood'.)

Harris then carried Jermaine into her parents bedroom. She told them where her mother's jewellery was hidden and begged for water. “Yassiem, I don't want to die now,” she said.

While Harris stood over Jermaine, Smith looked under the wardrobe, which Jermaine indicated. After Smith had found the valuables, she handed them to Harris and then began a systematic search of the cupboards. She saw that the duvet had been pulled over Jermaine's head and it was then she realized Harris had slit Jermaine's throat.

After Jermaine was dead, they collected the items they wanted to steal, and with Harris wearing a pair of tracksuit pants to cover the blood on his trousers they made their escape. Two weeks later, while Smith was being questioned by the police regarding a video machine that she and Harris had hired and sold, she suddenly confessed to the killing of Jermaine Abrahams. “I wouldn't have been able to live with it,” she said. Then she wept and under cross-examination admitted, “He pulled the scarf tight across her mouth and then cut her throat.”

On 15 September, Sandra Smith was charged with the murder of Jermaine Abrahams. Five days later, Yassiem Harris was arrested and charged similarly.

Smith and Harris appeared at a preliminary hearing at the Mitchell's Plain Magistrates' Court on 23 September. They pleaded guilty to murder, alternatively culpable homicide, and to stealing R2 000 worth of jewellery.

In a statement made to the court, Smith said: “Mr Harris and I went to the Abrahams' house, knocked on the door and the girl answered. We tied her up and tried to throttle her with dish cloths from the kitchen. But she would not die. He started to stab her, but still she wouldn't die. She kept on pleading with us to let her live. She said she didn't want to die. We then took her to her mother's bedroom - she said there was valuable jewellery there. She showed us where it was and we took it out. Then she started to get weaker. We put her on the bed. She was getting cold and asked us for water. We didn't give it to her. She started to bleed more and died. He slit her throat.” “Did you want her to die?” the Magistrate asked. “Not really. Mr Harris started to feel sorry for her afterwards but she would have been able to identify us.”

As she was leaving the court handcuffed to Harris, Smith had tears streaming down her face. When she saw her mother in the crowd she shouted, “Mummy they didn't give me bail ... Mummy, get me out of here...”

A month later, Smith and Harris were sent to Valkenberg Hospitalfor 30 days' psychiatric evaluation. Although Harris was said to have an 'anti-social personality disorder', both he and Smith were judged fit to stand trial.

The trial of Sandra Smith and Yassiem Harris began at the Cape Town Supreme Court on 1 December 1986. Both were accused of murdering and robbing Jermaine Abrahams. During the trial, both Smith and Harris attempted to shift the onus of blame on to the other. Smith maintained that Harris had done the actual killing and Harris claimed to have been dominated by Smith. Neither denied being party to the murder. However, when the exact nature of their relationship was examined, it was found that neither Harris nor Smith dominated the other. In other words, they were both equally responsible for their actions. During the trial, some love letters, which the accused had written to each other were read out in court - a fact which seemed to embarrass Mrs Smith more than the accusation of murder laid against her. In one letter in particular, she had referred to their sexually-satisfying relationship and said: 'I will never sleep with another man, not even with my own husband because during five years he could not please me. That is why I felt so sad this morning when you said you were pleased no one was waiting for you. What about me? Where do I really stand with you? I love you and I don't want to lose you. Yassiem, please tell me I must wait for you. I want you to believe that we will be together because I do. The way our sex has been, I don't believe I will ever again get a man who can please me so. That is why I am going to wait till you come out.'

Harris said in a letter: 'I want to tell you to forget me because I don't no [sic] if it will be the same when I come out one day. I love you very much Sandra you no it, but I don't no what's qoinq to happen in such a long time.'

On 11 December 1986, both Smith and Harris were convicted of murder and robbery with aggravating circumstances. During his two-hour summing-up the Judge-President, Mr Justice Munnik, described Harris, who had tried to put the blame on Smith by saying he had acted on her instructions, as 'an appalling witness'. It was clear, the Judge maintained, that Harris had wielded the knife throughout and his parrot like repetition of 'I don't know' when repeatedly asked why he killed the girl was merely a ploy. It was equally obvious that Harris had killed the girl to prevent her identifying them. Furthermore, his claim to have been dominated by Smith was refuted by the psychiatrist. Smith was demanding but not dominant, and there was no evidence to indicate that she pressurized Harris into committing any crimes that he would not normally commit. Indeed, the judge concluded, both Smith and Harris helped each other throughout and were equally responsible for what followed.

On 22 December, Smith and Harris were sentenced to hang because they had jointly planned and ruthlessly executed the murder of Jermaine Abrahams. (Harris was also sentenced to 10 years in prison for robbery with aggravating circumstances. Smith was sentenced to 7 years.) When the death sentence was handed down, Smith became hysterical and had to be taken struggling and wailing to the cells.

Sandra Smith and Yassiem Harris were executed on 2 July, 1989, at the Pretoria Central Prison.

Postscript
Following the publication of this book I had cause to speak to the investigating officer in this case on an unrelated matter. The officer in question maintained that Harris had told him that Sandra Smith had done the actual killing because she was jealous of the victim because she thought Harris was attracted to her. Despite this, Harris had confessed to the killing because of his love for Smith. Whether or not this was the actual case, we will never know, although I was under the impression that the investigating officer believed Harris.

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