LIFE AND DEATH BATTLE
Van Breda gave a detailed, blow- by- blow re- enactment of his tussle with the ‘ intruder’ in court
Annelize Taljaard testified that “she heard nothing” but admitted that there are multiple buildings between her house and the Van Bredas’, leading prosecution attorney Megan Blows to insist that the witness would not have been able to hear what was happening at the house.
The first day of his four- day marathon on the stand saw the accused become sarcastic and mocking when Galloway questioned his version of events. Asked why there was no blood on the soles of his white socks, which had been covered in blood spatter from his three deceased family members, Van Breda coldly leant into the microphone and robotically replied, “Because I did not step in blood,” staring back at Galloway, ready for her next question.
Asked why he had taken so long to report the incident to the police, Van Breda claimed he had passed out on the stairs after seeing his family hacked to death. Medical experts, brought in by his attorneys, testified that the swelling to his face and head was consistent with him having fainted, and that he had been diagnosed with juvenile myoclonic epilepsy, a common form of epilepsy, the previous November.
Tracey Stewart spoke of one of the things that stumped her when she listened to Van Breda tell the emergency call dispatcher that his sister was still alive: “I just find it peculiar if he had attacked the family that he would leave Marli to
survive, taking into account that she would most likely be an eyewitness,” she said. “But the counter- argument was that she should never have survived and it was just that he thought she wasn’t going to make it. But still, if you were going to try and get away with this crime, surely you would make sure that she didn’t survive?”
Police had reported no foreign DNA at the scene of the crime, nor were any foreign fingerprints or footprints lifted from the scene that would confirm Van Breda’s story of an intruder or intruders at the scene. Stewart agreed that the blood spatter analysis was a crucial part for both the arguments of the prosecution and defence, some of which cast doubt on whether Van Breda could be telling the truth: “One of the issues was that Marli’s blood wasn’t found on him or the axe... that is strange for me, but they gave reasonable explanations for it. The experts just said that maybe the way in which the axe- chops were inflicted – because some of the other ones were all around the same area – often, he said if you do it in different areas this can affect the blood splatter as you would expect it.”
Considering Van Breda’s unwavering version of events, Stewart said, “It just seems strange that that morning when he told his story after the crimes, he was certain that he had seen his brother and his dad attacked and he was in the room at the time, so that would explain him having a lot of their blood splatter on him. He then says his mother Teresa was outside of the room and Marli was outside the room, which explains why he doesn’t have any of Marli’s blood splatter on him and also why there’s only two drops of Teresa’s blood on his socks. That could have been made when he ran past her, so it just seems to be quite strange that that morning he knew what the evidence was going to indicate. It’s a slight bit of doubt for me.”
Van Breda argued that the intruder had been wearing gloves, but he was quizzed as to why the axe handle was devoid of any fingerprints at all, and how an attacker could have held onto what should have been a blood- soaked axe handle while wearing gloves. Van Breda claimed he didn’t know the answer to either questions. Indeed, Van Breda’s memory failed him multiple times when attempting to recall the details of what had happened that evening. Why had the attacker used an axe to kill his family when he also allegedly had a knife, which would have been easier and allowed a much quieter kill? Why had Rudi’s duvet been rolled up and placed on the other side of the room almost on top of the secondary weapon? More importantly, why didn’t he try to help his family when he saw the attacks unfold? Van Breda couldn’t produce a satisfactory answer for many of the questions directed at him. At times he seemed to almost alter his answers to match his version of events and was called out by the prosecution for doing so multiple times.
Van Breda cast doubt on the initial statement he says he had been coerced into signing following a tiring interrogation by police, a statement he claimed police hadn’t been tampered with but had been put together with the view that he was a suspect and not a victim. It seemed strange that the stutter Botha had spoken of so eagerly when discussing his client was almost absent, except for the occasional stumble over his words.
While cameras were permitted to record the trial, the judge ordered that they be turned off when the crime scene photos were shown to the courts. Journalists in the gallery were advised to be responsible in their reporting of the violent scenes they were about to see. Tracey Stewart, who
Van Breda’s memory failed him multiple times when attempting to recall the
details of what had happened
watched the walk- through of the crime scene, told us about the grotesque violence the images showed. Commenting on the stairwell area where Teresa and Marli had been discovered, Tracey Stewart said there was so much blood that the colour had changed to a deep red that was almost purple. When the bodies of the mother and daughter were moved, paramedics commented that blood had rushed down the stairs “like a waterfall”.
Ringing Alarm Bells
The security of the estate where the Van Bredas had lived was heavily scrutinised. According to Stewart, the De Zalze estate was “very well- known for being an expensive estate to live in because of the security and the upkeep”. A South African resident herself, she explained the prevalent fear among the public for their safety and how gated communities such as these were a popular solution. The Van Breda home was practically in the middle of the estate. The prosecutors argued that a home close to the perimeter would have made for a much easier target, an argument Stewart herself had considered: “The fact that somebody might have broken into the house and done this is not the part that we didn’t believe. That’s very possible, but if you look at these types of break- ins they would normally use a different type of weapon, they’d bring their own, and they’d normally get easy access, they wouldn’t choose an estate with the security.” Having been present for the entirety of the Van Breda trial, she explained, “That’s one of the things the judge said, is that the intruders had gone to a lot of effort to get access into that estate yet they didn’t bring their own weapons with them.”
The strength of the security was debated in court, and while the prosecutors attempted to show that no security breaches had been reported that evening, Van Breda’s argument that an intruder penetrated the perimeter of the estate was nailed up by one single factor – there had been an alarm sounded at 1.37am on the morning of 27 January 2015, roughly around the time that the attacks were thought to have been carried out.
While Van Breda had suffered multiple wounds, Dr. Marianne Tiemensma, who took the stand during the final days of the trial, delivered a crushing blow to the defence’s hopes of proving that Van Breda was innocent. After careful consideration of Van Breda’s wounds, which had been examined at the scene of the crime on the morning of 27 January, she concluded that he displayed “regular and
Van Breda’s premeditated murder and attempted murder ‘ warrants the severest possible penalty’
superficial” wounds to the chest and torso – in total contrast to the lethal wounds his family had suffered. The second expert to testify for the prosecution was forensic pathologist Professor Johan Dempers, who argued that there was no reason why the so- called intruder should have attacked
Henri Van Breda in any way differently to the rest of the family, and that it was uncommon for one person in a group of victims to be significantly less affected by the attacker’s violence. Professor Dempers seemed unconvinced that two cuts found on Henri Van Breda’s chest, which were almost perfectly perpendicular and equal in length and depth, would have been the result of the violent, life- threatening struggle Van Breda had described, and were instead “textbook” examples of self- inflicted injuries.
Despite such damning evidence, the defence refrained from using their own expert to counteract the prosecution’s arguments about Van Breda’s wounds. Forensic pathologist Dr. Peremol was on standby but was never called upon by the defence. Stewart explained how South African law deemed that if the judge believed Van Breda’s version of events were reasonably true, then he would have to automatically exclude the evidence of the prosecution’s experts.
“Cold- Blooded Murder”
When considering the closing arguments made by both the defence and the prosecution, Desai was still faced with so many questions about Van Breda. Why had he not sprung to his family’s aid but managed to overcome the attacker on his own after the attacks? Why was he the only one to escape with minor injuries? Why had he been so emotionally cold throughout most of the trial? On 28 May 2018 Van Breda stood motionless in court as Desai found him guilty of all the charges against him. Reading from a 170- page summary document when handing down his sentence the following week, Desai described Van Breda’s attack on his family as “cold- blooded murder”. Addressing Van Breda directly, he said the killer had “launched a savage and continued attack upon your victims” and showed “an almost unprecedented degree of disregard for the welfare of one’s own family” as well as “no remorse” for his crimes. “Society expects violent crimes to be evaluated with sufficient seriousness and stringent penalties to be imposed” he explained, adding that Van Breda’s premeditated murder and attempted murder “warrants the severest possible penalty”.
As Van Breda stood stoic and emotionless, Desai handed down three life sentences for the murders of his mother, father and brother, a 15- year sentence for the attempted murder of his sister Marli and a 12- month sentence for obstructing the course of justice. In the gallery, his girlfriend, who he had only just begun dating when his family were attacked and who had stood by him ever since, wept at the court’s decision. Van Breda was also listed under section 103 of the firearms control Act 60 of 2000, which deems Van Breda unfit to possess a firearm. During his final comments, the judge commended broadcast media for its part in ensuring that justice was carried out effectively, drawing on the earlier concerns that live broadcasting Van Breda’s trial could jeopardise the proceedings.
Botha informed the judge that his client would be appealing his conviction and sentence, but even if they are unsuccessful in their legal bids, South African law will permit Van Breda to apply for parole after only 25 years. According to Stewart it does not mean that he will be free and that
Van Breda may spend the rest of his natural life behind bars, although she holds little hope that the world will ever find out exactly why Van Breda carried out his savage and merciless attack.
above A Perth University student and the middle child of Teresa and Martin Van Breda, HenriVan Breda stood accused of murdering his mother, father and brother as well as attempting to kill his sister. He denied the charges against him Van Breda descr ibed his f amily’s attacker as a “b lack” man, but f orensic anal yst Lieutenant Colonel Henr y Stew art testified that a long b lond hair f ound wrapped around Mar li’s fingers could ha ve belonged to Henr i
According to Van Breda, the attacker grabbed his right forearm with his left hand in an attempt to get him to drop the axe. The attacker then lifted his right hand, holding a knife. To stop the intruder from slicing him to death he grabbed the attacker’s left forearm. Still the intruder pursued his attack. Van Breda was cut and slashed in the chest.The assailant also slashed at his left arm, but according to Van Breda, he was still holding onto his right forearm, which prevented him from inflicting serious harm.
Van Breda was hurt when the attacker moved the arm holding the knife in a way that twisted Van Breda’s left hand, and started to stab at Van Breda in his left side. At the same time,Van Breda struck the intruder with the axe in an attempt to make him let go of the knife. It was only then that Van Breda said he realised he had been holding the axe backwards, striking the attacker with the blunt side. “After I struck him, he let go of the knife and my right arm and retreated.”
above Dr. Antonel Olckers testified that most of the results of the DNA tests conducted by a state forensic expert were invalid. However, the prosecution moved to discredit her testimony by arguing that she herself was under- qualified
above After 66 days of trial spanning many months, Van Breda was found guilty at Western Cape High Court. His impassive reaction as he was led away was much the same as it had been throughout the trial