Cape Town - Triple murder accused Henri van Breda described the emotional state of his family as "happy" on the night of the axe attacks that left his mother, Teresa, father Martin, and brother Rudi dead in their Stellenbosch home in January 2015.
He was adamant that a neighbour, Stephanie Op't Hof, who testified earlier in the trial, had not heard loud male voices arguing between 10pm and midnight as she had testified, but had in fact heard the soundtrack of Star Trek 2, the movie he had watched with his father and brother.
But senior state prosecutor Susan Galloway said he added a "time lapse" to fit in with her testimony. "You realised that Op't Hof heard male voices shouting, you had to give an explanation of what she heard from your house. And so you had to move the movie to a later time. That is why you said your father worked on his laptop after dinner."
On Tuesday, Van Breda told the court that his father worked after dinner, a detail he left out of his police statement.
"It was a new event that slipped in. If you watched the movie straight after dinner, your timeline would not have worked. You testified that dinner was at 7.30pm and takes half an hour, if you watched movie after dinner then it wouldn't make sense that Op't Hof only heard the movie at 10pm," Galloway said.
Van Breda said he thought Op't Hof was "misguided".
Galloway also referred to testimony from sister Marli's boyfriend, James Reade-Jahn. Marli, who was 16 at the time of the attacks survived but suffered severe head injuries and has retrograde amnesia. Reade-Jahn testified that the father was a dominant and controlling member of the family.
"I am not surprised by James's opinion. I would agree with him somewhat. My father was a very strong man, he had lots of companies, he was always the boss, dominant would be an accurate word, I guess", Van Breda told the court on Wednesday.
He said Reade-Jahn had been Marli's first serious boyfriend, "so naturally dad was very protective over her".
Cross-examination also focused on the fact that Van Breda did not go to the aid of his father when he was attacked, as he had been "too scared".
He agreed, when asked by Judge Siraj Desai, that the intruder had targetted his brother Rudi specifically. Van Breda had come out of the bathroom and stood frozen in the corner of the small room, but had called for help. His father had rushed into the room, switched on the light and then been attacked himself. After attacking the father, the intruder had “giggled”, Van Breda told the court.
Van Breda conceded that the intruder had been unconcerned by his presence, and had not been distracted by his calls for help when Rudi was being attacked.
When his mother came running towards the room and asked what was going on, the attacker moved towards her. Galloway put it to Van Breda that it was strange that the attacker had not turned on Van Breda himself, who he must have known was male from his deep voice and earlier calls for help. “He leaves you, a male behind him, to attack a female outside the room, despite being aware of you in the room, he does nothing.”
Van Breda said the attacker giggled after attacking his father to which Judge Desai asked “like he was having fun, enjoying what he was doing?”
“It appeared so,” Van Breda told the court.
Van Breda, who turned 23 on Wednesday, appeared nervous on the stand, particularly when detailing the movements of the intruder and the way he swung the axe during the attacks. At one point, Judge Desai offered him water.
Galloway also put it to Van Breda that his description of the intruder in his initial police statement had been “stereotypical” and “vague”: “It boils down to an unknown black man wearing gloves and a balaclava.”
Van Breda said it could have been a dark-skinned Coloured man, but having spent most of his life in Australia, was not used to discerning the distinctions between the two. “The word Coloured is not used in Australia. When I said black, perhaps it should have been Coloured.”
He said he had heard two harsh voices, but only seen one intruder in the bedroom he shared with his brother. “I heard a voice with a harsh tone, most likely speaking Afrikaans. They had similar voices, but two distinct intonations.”
He later told the court he did not recall the axe being in the house. During the trial, the family's domestic worker Precious Munyongani told the court the axe looked exactly like the one kept in the pantry.
Van Breda conceded that the knife used in the attacks "resembled the kitchen knife we had".
The drawer where it was kept was the only one open in the kitchen. "That would mean whoever came in would have tried to arm himself," Galloway said.
Van Breda agreed that it was "logical" that whoever came in had been unarmed or armed inadequately.
Galloway said they had "in actual fact been ill prepared".
Van Breda conceded that he did find it "strange" that one person armed himself with both the axe and knife from the house to attack the family.
He further told the court that he had not seen a second axe, a suggestion made by the defence earlier in the trial.
Galloway consistently highlighted differences between Van Breda’s plea explanation and his statements in court to which he explained "the process of this trial has jogged a lot of my memory".