Cape Town - An unexpected last-minute defence witness has stalled the trial of triple murder accused Henri Van Breda.
On Tuesday, Western Cape High Court Judge Siraj Desai "reluctantly" postponed court proceedings to November 27, but said he wants the trial to be wrapped up by the end of this month.
Defence lawyer Piet Botha told the court on Monday that his client had a seizure on Wednesday last week and had spent the weekend undergoing medical tests. He said neurosurgeon Dr James Butler diagnosed him with juvenile myoclonic epilepsy, adding that Van Breda had been having "petit mal seizures for some time".
Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy (JME) is an inherited genetic syndrome. According to wikipedia, episodes are characterised by involuntary muscle twitching that do not usually result in the person falling, "but rather dropping objects".
"Other seizure types such as generalised tonic-clonic (GTCs) and absence seizures can also occur". It also said generalised GTCs are usually triggered by sleep deprivation.
Dr Butler is expected to shed light on the two hours and forty minutes which 23-year-old Van Breda claims he lost consciousness on the night of the attack on his family which saw his father, mother and brother killed, and his sister badly injured.
Botha said an EEG or brain scan used to make the diagnosis of juvenile myoclonic epilepsy was available, but Dr Butler would need time to work on a more comprehensive report.
Furthermore, he said a psychologist who is also expected to take the stand to explain Van Breda's emotional reactions during the attacks, may need to amend a section of her report once she has received the neurologist's report.
Senior state prosecutor Susan Galloway did not object to the defence calling Dr Butler and said she had consulted him in preparation for her cross-examination of the defence's expert witness and neurologist Dr Mike Du Trevou.
The two week postponement would also give the state "time to consult another expert if necessary".
Desai said the trial was being "unduly prolonged", but accepted Botha's explanation that the witness was unexpected. "I am reluctant, but I will postpone the trial as it is in the interests of justice to do so".
Van Breda has pleaded not guilty to murdering his father, Martin, brother Rudi and mother Teresa. His sister Marli, who was 16 at the time of the January 2015 attacks, survived but suffered severe head injuries and has retrograde amnesia.
Van Breda claims that an intruder, armed with an axe and knife, and wearing dark clothing, a balaclava and gloves was behind the attacks. He said in his plea explanation that during the pursuit of the attacker he lost his footing and fell down the stairs. He added: "I do not know what made me fall, but my fall was quite severe."
After the attacker fled, and trying to phone his girlfriend without success, the accused said he went up the stairs, where he could hear his brother Rudi in the bedroom. On the middle landing towards the top, he saw Marli moving, while his mother was not moving.
"I then lost consciousness. I am unsure whether this was due to shock or to the injuries that I sustained when I fell down the stairs, or a combination of both."
He has also explained to the court that he did not go to his family members when he regained consciousness, as he didn’t think he could help them.
Instead, he smoked three cigarettes, one after the other, at the kitchen counter in a bid to stay “calm” while on the phone to emergency services.