LIFE AND DEATH BAT­TLE

Van Breda gave a de­tailed, blow- by- blow re- en­act­ment of his tus­sle with the ‘ in­truder’ in court

Real Crime - - Henri Van Breda -

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

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