Henri van Breda’s court stress
As he stands trial for the murder of his family, Henri van Breda hasn’t given much away. We asked experts how he might be coping
DAY after day he sits in court, staring ahead poker-faced. His expression gives little away but as he listens to proceedings he fidgets with a silver ring, rolling it over and over. When he sees photographs of his brother’s mutilated body in a pool of blood in the bedroom they once shared, the ring moves faster.
And when pictures are shown of his mother with her head cut open, lying in the passage of his former family home, the piece of jewellery almost takes on a life of its own, whirling faster and faster between his fingers.
This ring is practically the only sign of emotion Henri van Breda has betrayed in the long weeks of his murder trial.
Is he worried Judge Siraj Desai will find him guilty?
Or does he believe that when all the evidence is weighed up the court will believe his version of events: that on the morning of 27 January 2015 someone entered their home on the De Zalze estate outside Stellenbosch and axed his father, Martin (54), mother, Teresa (55), and broth- er, Rudi (22), to death?
From his expression, which is unreadable as stone, it’s impossible to say.
Henri (22) and his sister, Marli, were the only two survivors of the massacre. Marli, who was 16 at the time, was also attacked and is unable to testify as a result of the retrograde amnesia she still suffers.
So all the court has to go on is the testimony of the accused and the experts who’ve been brought in to examine the forensic evidence for telltale clues.
For weeks witnesses have offered their take – yet while Henri looks impassively on it’s fair to say the proceedings in the high court in Cape Town have taken their toll.
The dark circles under his eyes are now more pronounced than ever and he’s put on a fair amount of weight.
Yet throughout the trial his body language seldom reveals any clue as to what might be going on in his head.
When photos of his murdered family members and the gruesome house of horrors are handed out in court, Henri pages through them as if looking through a storybook.
Only at one point does he lose a semblance of control – as he stares at the bloodied axe and the knife used to kill his family the ring he’s been rolling suddenly slips from his fingers.
The tinkling sound as it hits the wooden floor resonates in the court and can be heard even in the back of the gallery.
His legal representative, advocate Pieter Botha, stops talking and in the hush of the courtroom you can hear the
ring rolling until it hits something and comes to a halt.
Botha turns and looks over his spectacles to meet his client’s gaze. Henri smiles slightly and bends down, feeling under the bench for his ring. He puts it back on and returns his attention to the photos lying in front of him.
ON DAY 38 of the trial, before taking his usual place in the dock, Henri turns to greet an unknown man in the public gallery with a smile. “I’ve known Henri since he was little when they lived in Pretoria, when his mother and father worked in property. That was before the family moved to Australia,” the grey-haired man tells us later during the lunch break.
He doesn’t want to disclose his name because it’s not his place to speak, he says. But he totally stands behind Henri and believes in his innocence.
The man describes Henri’s childhood as happy and says that under the circumstances things have been going well in court.
“Yes, he struggles to sleep at night but he stands strong and is trying to stay positive. He believes that his innocence will be proven.”
The man says Henri’s girlfriend, Daniellé Janse van Rensburg (21), whom he met at chef school in Cape Town, has been a pillar of strength.
“She’s a wonderful, soft-hearted girl. She offers him so much support.”
A day later in court you can notice a subtle change in Henri. He seems to be sitting up a bit straighter in the dock and listening more attentively.
As he does so he makes notes on the paper in front of him. Sometimes he even greets a few of the regular courtroom photographers before they start taking his picture. What’s changed? His legal team is fighting back. The state has closed its case against him and now it’s his team’s turn to present his version of what took place on that fateful night.
Henri maintains there was a hit on his family and hopes the court sees it that way, the man outside the court says.
“Hope,” he adds. “That’s all Henri has at this stage.”
HENRI AT COURT