Van Breda case: unan­swered ques­tions linger

Foren­sic ev­i­dence led at mur­der trial

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - MIKE BEHR

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.

PIC­TURE: SUPPLIED

Henri van Breda’s wounds. The State has pre­sented a sum­mary of sub­stan­tial facts.

Henri van Breda

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