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Defence objects to judge's 'unfair' Van Breda questioning

Murder accused Henri van Breda Pictures: Catherine Rice/ANA

Murder accused Henri van Breda Pictures: Catherine Rice/ANA

Published Nov 2, 2017


Western Cape High Court Judge Siraj Desai on Thursday questioned why Henri van Breda felt no anger after watching his brother and father being viciously attacked by an axe-wielding intruder.

According to Van Breda's version of events, when the attacker advanced towards him and they struggled, he felt "overwhelmed" and "scared" and didn't realise he was in fact the stronger of the two, saying: "With the benefit of hindsight and now being able to think clearly, I wish I did get angry and react."

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He told the court he only felt angry several days after the incident.

In a heated exchange with the judge, defence lawyer Piet Botha objected to the questioning, calling it "unfair", but Judge Desai angrily told him: "I will decide what is fair or not."

Senior prosecutor Susan Galloway has again been highlighting the differences in Van Breda's initial statement to the police and his plea explanation.

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In a bid to clearly understand his struggle with the intruder, she asked Van Breda to demonstrate where exactly their hands had been with police officer Sergeant Clinton Malan acting as the intruder, as he, according to Van Breda's version, matched the height of his attacker. 

Using a replica wooden axe, Van Breda showed the court in an attempt to explain how he disarmed his attacker, and how he came to sustain wounds on his upper left torso and forearm.

The murder weapon and a replica which was used to demonstrate Van Breda's struggle with the attacker.

Judge Desai also questioned why Van Breda did not lunge after the intruder and attack him, but instead did nothing while his brother Rudi and father Martin were being attacked. 

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Van Breda said he had been overwhelmed.

"So in essence you say you did nothing because you were scared," the judge said.

Van Breda, on the verge of tears, asked for an adjournment to wash his face. After a 15-minute break, he returned to the stand composed, and able to recall specific details.

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"I have the distinct memory of one time he was going for my throat and I was pushing his hand down," he told the court. I remember him going for my chest."

This, Galloway pointed out, would explain the two lines on the upper part of his torso, lines which she said had been deemed "self-inflicted" in earlier evidence.

An expert in forensic pathology and clinical forensics told the court earlier in the trial that there was a “strong contrast” in the wounds sustained by Henri van Breda and the rest of his family.

Dr Marianne Tiemensa testified that the Van Breda family members had had extensive “chop wounds”, while Henri’s were very minor and just broke the skin, except for one that was slightly deeper.

She said his wounds were not inflicted with the same intent and force, and he had no defensive injuries.

Henri, 23, has pleaded not guilty to three charges of murder, attempted murder and defeating the ends of justice.

He claims his father, mother and older brother were murdered by a laughing, axe-wielding intruder at the family’s upmarket home on the De Zalze security estate in Stellenbosch on 27 January 2015. 

His sister Marli, who was 16 years old at the time, survived the attack.

The State alleges that Henri committed the killings and that his wounds were self-inflicted in a bid to make it look like he too was a victim.

Dr Tiemensa told the court in May: “The wounds are superficial‚ regular‚ equal in depth‚ parallel‚ and in areas reachable to the person.”

“The incisions were regular and equal in depth. There is no movement in the wounds, they are parallel. They have similar appearance. Those are typical wounds of self-infliction.”

On Thursday, Galloway questioned how Van Breda was able to disarm the attacker: "What I find difficult to believe, don't you also find it strange, that this person who has just attacked at least your brother and father he is coming towards you to attack you. 

"You have no way of knowing if he may have different intent with you as he is still armed with an axe and is laughing similarly to when he attacked your father. This attacker is coming to execute a similar attack on you. The first blow to your father incapacitated him. 

"He executed an attack on Rudi, why would this person be so readily disarmable?"

Van Breda admitted he was "surprised" by how easily he was able to take the axe out his attacker's hand.

Despite having a "back up weapon", a knife, Galloway said the only wounds the attacker managed to inflict were "superficial and non-fatal". 

"Correct," said Van Breda.

Galloway pointed out that 16-year-old Marli "who had fought back the hardest" wasn't very successful in defending herself and had been viciously attacked, yet Van Breda who physically matched his attacker sustained no defensive wounds.

"If they don't appear that way then so be it," he said.

Van Breda would have had to be standing still during the struggle to sustain parallel wounds, Galloway told the court. She asked Van Breda if there had been movement.

Yes there had been, he said, but couldn't remember what they were doing with their feet.

Van Breda also demonstrated to the court how he pulled the knife out of his side. It was a clearly clumsy movement as he was already holding the axe in the same hand.

According to Van Breda's plea explanation, he ran after the attacker when he fled the bedroom he shared with his brother.

Galloway said after the attacks on the rest of the family, he was "now alone" with the attacker, but found the "courage" to follow him.

"Probably as a result of him running away, that is why I had the confidence," Van Breda told the court.

But, Galloway highlighted his version that there was at least one other person downstairs: "Despite being unsure of how many people were down there, not being aware of the weapons they were carrying, you now have the confidence to follow a fleeing man and chase these people out of your house".

The accused claimed he threw the axe at his attacker who was running down the stairs, to which Judge Desai questioned, "why didn't you keep the axe to defend yourself in case they came back?"

Van Breda responded: "I should have."

The accused conceded that the attacker had been more "restrained" with him compared with the attacks on the other members of his family.

Galloway told the court that Van Breda had left out a number of details in his statement, that were subsequently included in his plea explanation.

Van Breda, who was on the stand for the third day running, blamed these omissions on the police officers who took down his initial statement.

The trial continues.

African News Agency

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