CAPE TOWN, November 7 – The Western Cape High Court on Tuesday postponed the trial of triple murder accused Henri Van Breda until Monday, but not before Judge Siraj Desai did some cross-examining himself.
Desai wanted to know how blood spots got on Van Breda’s shoes which he claimed he left at the bottom of the stairs, as he always did.
“They were next to the carpet that had a pool of blood”, he said after examining a photograph of the shoes.
“From these photos, it is fairly clear”, he told the court but conceded he didn’t know “exactly” how the blood spots got onto the shoes.
Van Breda told Judge Desai he hid cigarettes in the shoes and usually left them there for his walks with the family dog, Sasha.
He hadn’t hidden his cigarettes from his parents. He was in fact hiding them from Marli, his sister, as his parents didn’t want her to know he smoked, Van Breda testified.
Desai also asked Van Breda why, if he was scared as he testified, he hadn’t locked the back door after the intruders fled the house.
Van Breda responded: “I should have. I think I was already busy on the phone. I wasn’t thinking about it”.
The 23-year-old, who was 20 at the time of the murders, has claimed that a laughing, axe-wielding intruder wearing a balaclava and gloves, was behind the January 2015 attacks that left his parents, Teresa and Martin, and his brother Rudi dead. His sister, Marli, who was 16 at the time, was severely injured and has retrograde amnesia which rendered her unable to testify in the trial.
On Monday, senior state prosecutor Susan Galloway Senior wrapped up her cross-examination and told the court Van Breda had “selective memory loss more often than not when it comes to incriminating evidence”.
She highlighted the discrepancies in Van Breda’s initial police statement on January 27 and his plea explanation, saying he later added timelines, became “vague” when it suited him and tailored his evidence after having “ample time” to scrutinise the police docket.
On Tuesday, defence lawyer Piet Botha, during re-examination, asked his client about his struggle with the attacker. “When you fought with the attacker and disarmed him you were asked about that incident as well. You mentioned he was wearing gloves. Are you able to say who had the better grip on the axe?”
Van Breda told the court his grip “ended up being superior” as he was able to remove it from the attacker’s grasp.
Desai said it would have been difficult to handle the axe with gloves on, to which Van Breda said: “I don’t know”.
Botha said Van Breda had also been confronted with evidence from police officers who testified that the crime scene was very “neat” which they don’t usually encounter. Asked of his knowledge of crime scenes, he said he had “none”.
Botha also raised the question of where the family dog Sasha had been during the attacks. Van Breda didn’t know, nor did he know where she was when the intruders left the house.
During cross-examination, it was Galloway’s contention that he locked the dog in the garage to prevent her from barking.
Botha also pointed out a photo showing father Martin’s laptop on the dining room table. Van Breda reiterated that his father worked after dinner. This would fit in with his version that he watched a movie with his dad and brother much later at 10pm and not straight after dinner. The state believes he altered the timeline to explain loud male voices heard by the neighbour between 10pm and midnight. Van Breda claimed the neighbour must have heard the soundtrack of the movie.
Botha told the court he plans to call a psychologist, but had only managed to consult with her late on Monday afternoon.
He told the court he had tasked her with answering two questions. There had been questions around Van Breda not coming to the aid of his family, as well as his behaviour after the attacks and Botha said he wanted to present “evidence of expert opinion on whether this is typical behaviour when confronted with such a situation”.
Desai said it was the function of the court to evaluate evidence and not the witness. “I do not wish the witness to usurp my function as the court.”
Galloway objected on the same grounds, but Desai said he would allow the witness.
If there was still disagreement, Desai said they would have to argue the admissability of the evidence on Monday.
Van Breda looked relieved as he stepped out of the witness box after five days of gruelling cross-examination.
The trial was postponed to November 13.