Van Breda case: unanswered questions linger
Forensic evidence led at murder trial
AS THE Western Cape High Court adjourned this week for winter recess, triple- murder accused Henri van Breda looked carefree.
Yet the State’s “Summary of Substantial Facts” still hangs over him. After 27 days of evidence from State experts, the summary – issued a year ago when Van Breda was first charged with murdering three of his family – makes sobering reading.
The prosecution has been relentlessly ticking its boxes since the trial started on April 24.
“No intruder to the estate was detected…” it states.
While the court heard that De Zalze Winelands Golf Estate’s security was not perfect, there was no evidence before the court that the laughing, masked attacker and his alleged accomplice, depicted in Henri’s plea statement, penetrated the security and regular patrols to reach the Van Breda home in the middle of the exclusive residential complex undetected.
“There were no signs of forcible entry… No items were removed from the home.”
Judge Siraj Desai has still to hear why a masked attacker would slay a man with no known enemies and his family and flee, leaving a wealth of valuables including laptops, smartphones and two Mercedes-Benz cars.
Not even Van Breda’s mother Teresa’s handbag containing R880 and half a dozen credit cards was snatched from the kitchen counter. The scene that police reported that they saw was too neat and undisturbed. Even more perplexing for the court is the absence of an attacker’s footprints after a blood-letting so extensive it traumatised veteran paramedics.
And where were Henri’s footprints after almost four hours on the crime scene? As things stand, the only shoe prints accounted for are those of the police and paramedics. The defence did not put an alternative version to Botha tried to wring concessions out of him. As Dempers remarked, the fight described by Henri seemed too structured like “a perfectly controlled dance on TV”.
Botha’s counter version was chilling. The attacker might have been laughing as he approached Henri but, according to Botha, he was tired after hacking the family to death and Henri was more than his match. “My client swam, rowed and played rugby… He’s physically strong…” Not leaving it there, Botha invited the doctor to shake Henri’s hand to prove how strong he was.
Judge Desai prohibited publication of photos of the Van Bredas’ injuries. Noting that it is common in an attack of this nature for wounds to be similar, Dempers’s examination identified two distinctive wounding patterns on the deceased.
The first included mostly head laceration injuries associated with significant skull fractures and head injury. The second wounding pattern involved incised wounds mostly to the head and neck area. With the exception of small defensive wounds to the hands of Teresa and Rudi, these incised wounds were “large in length and penetrated quite deeply into the tissues. Similar wounds were not present on the body of Henri van Breda,” Dempers said in his report handed to Judge Desai.
“I find it hard to believe that an assailant had intended to cause grievous bodily harm and only succeeded in superficially scratching the skin. I find it even harder to believe that the assailant had allegedly succeeded in causing linear scratches, some only a few millimetres apart, without Van Breda flinching and causing further wounds to change direction… or at least resulting in a variation in the depth of the wounds.
“I cannot but come to the conclusion that the injuries found on the body of Van Breda are more likely the cause of self-inflicted wounding,” Dempers said.
Henri van Breda’s wounds. The State has presented a summary of substantial facts.
Henri van Breda