Henri Van Breda during the State's closing arguments on Monday. PHOTO: ANA

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Evidence ‘fits in with his version’ – Defence in Henri Van Breda trial

CAPE TOWN, February 13  – Defence advocate Piet Botha spent Tuesday trying to convince the Western Cape High Court that his client, Henri Van Breda, should be acquitted of all the charges against him.

 
He argued that the evidence before the court fitted in with Van Breda’s version of what happened in the early hours of the morning at the family’s home in the De Zalze security estate, Stellenbosch on January 27, 2015. 
 
He told the court that the State had failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt in the trial of 23-year-old triple murder accused Henri Van Breda.
 
He said the State’s case was based on speculation, and that evidence presented by the State was of “poor quality”.
 
Van Breda has claimed that an axe-wielding intruder murdered his father and mother, Marin and Teresa, and his older brother Rudi. His sister Marli, who was 16 at the time, survived but suffered severe injuries, had retrograde amnesia and could not testify in the trial.
 
The State believes that Van Breda was the attacker, tampered with the crime scene and that his injuries were self-inflicted in an attempt to make it look like he too was a victim.
 
In final arguments, Botha told the court that if Van Breda had been the attacker “you would expect him to be drenched in blood”. There was no blood on his upper body or arms which Botha said fitted in with his version that he had been in close proximity to his father and brother during the attack, but had not witnessed the attacks on his sister or mother.

“The DNA investigation did not yield evidence of a single profile of Marli or his mother on the accused’s shorts. There were various bloodstains of Martin and Rudi. Again, it fits in with his version that he was close to them and not close to Marli and his mother”.
Botha said the version Van Breda gave on January 27 was months before the DNA analysis had been completed.
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“His narrative, as to his whereabouts when the attacks took place, is later corroborated when the DNA test results are received”.
Judge Siraj Desai questioned why no trace of foreign DNA was found on the crime scene: “There should have been some indication of this alien person”.
But, Botha insisted that this too fitted in with Van Breda’s version. The lack of foreign DNA could be explained by the fact that, according to Van Breda, the attacker was wearing a balaclava and gloves.
Furthermore, Marli’s DNA was not found on the axe: “It refutes the State’s case.”
Botha suggested that Marli could have been attacked with a second weapon by a second attacker.
“The absence of Marli’s DNA and of his DNA on her, flies in the face of the Locard’s principle (‘every contact leaves a trace’), repeatedly
referred to by State witnesses.”
“Moreover, the contact between the weapon that caused Marli’s injuries and her skin-, muscle-, bone-, blood-, bone and brain- matter happened at least 8 times, during an intense, prolonged struggle. That there would have been a lot of contact between her and her attacker during the prolonged struggle is also self-evident.”
The suggestion of a second axe was met with derision by Judge Desai: “Its such an improbable story”.
Botha insisted that it was possible: “Gratuitous violence during home invasions happens every day in this country. Why is it improbable that the attacker got one axe from the house and brought in a second axe?”
Desai also criticised Botha for not calling defence witness Dr Reggie Perumal to testify about Van Breda’s alleged self-inflicted injuries.
Botha said they had had to consider finances as Perumal was from Durban, but Desai pointed out that he had sat in court and observed for two days and could have been called then.
The defence is expected to wrap up final arguments on Wednesday.

Advocate Piet Botha gave a passionate delivery of his final arguments in defence of triple murder accused Henri van Breda on Tuesday, prompting Judge Siraj Desai to ask him to “calm down”.

Botha told the Western Cape High Court the evidence of the State was of “poor quality” and that it had not proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
In the final leg of the trial of 23-year-old Van Breda, the defence must convince the Western Cape High Court that the accused’s version of what happened in the early hours of January 27, 2015, is reasonably possibly true.
Van Breda has pleaded not guilty to three counts of murder, one of attempted murder and one of obstructing the ends of justice. He claims that his mother Teresa, father Martin and older brother Rudi were killed by a laughing, axe-wielding intruder wearing a balaclava, gloves and dark clothing. His sister Marli, who was 16 at the time, survived but “not because of a lesser attack, rather a miracle”, according to the State.
The State believes Van Breda was behind the attacks, tampered with the crime scene, that his injuries were self-inflicted to make it look like he too had been a victim, and that intruders breaking into the security estate, De Zalze, undetected was highly unlikely.
Botha, however, insisted that his client was a good witness and had not deviated from his version.
He said the State had relied on speculation. “Inference must be drawn from the facts.”
Furthermore, he said a neighbour’s testimony that she had heard loud male voices arguing between 10pm and midnight on January 26, for two hours “unabated” was impossible.
But Judge Desai said there was no reason for an objective witness, who did not know the family, to lie to the court.
Botha was adamant, however, that what Stephanie Opt’hof heard was “mistaken” and had in fact heard the dramatic, action-packed movie Martin Van Breda and his two sons watched that night.
Whatsapp messages between Marli and her boyfriend, and Henri and his girlfriend, did not indicate a family fight. The only evidence of a “slight family altercation had been two weeks before that”.
He told the court that the estate was not secure and that only 35% of its perimeter had cameras at the time of the incident.
Botha said there were “glaring vulnerabilities” in the system and that the windows of the Van Breda home on the ground floor had been unlocked and open.
“As comprehensively illustrated by the defence during the inspection in loco, neither the pedestrian gate on the eastern side of the Van Breda residence, nor the boundary wall bordering the Locke residence on the western side thereof, would have presented any significant hurdle to perpetrators intent on entering and exiting the property, nor would these actions have left any signs of such entry or exit”.
He said a bloodstain on the kitchen door fitted in with Van Breda’s version. “By the same reasoning, the evidence of the bloodstain deposited on the kitchen door is consistent with the accused’s testimony that the perpetrators fled the scene after the attacks, exiting through the backdoor, during which process they would have been compelled to move through the kitchen door where the stain was found”.
He also highlighted the evidence of defence witness and DNA analyst Dr Antonel Olckers who testified that standard operation procedures at the police’s forensic laboratory had not been followed. “Failure to adhere to these standards, taint the results obtained in the process, rendering the pursuant findings unscientific and void.”
But Judge Desai was critical of her findings, saying: “She could have knocked the state’s case to smithereens, if she had tested the samples herself.”
But Botha reiterated the defence’s contention that standard operating procedures had not been adhered to, invalidating the police’s DNA analysis. “It is submitted that the safeguards presented by adherence to the applicable standards, are crucial components to ensure that the accused is afforded a fair trial and that justice is served.”
He believes his client should be acquitted on all counts as “the circumstantial evidence presented by the State supported the accused’s narrative and not the State’s”.
 
“The circumstantial evidence presented by the State to prove its case against the accused does not warrant, as the only reasonable inference, that the accused was the person who attacked his family.”
Defence advocate Piet Botha told the Western Cape High Court on Tuesday that the State failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt in the trial of triple murder accused Henri Van Breda.
 
He said the State’s case was based on speculation, “inferences should be drawn from facts”, and that evidence presented by the State was of “poor quality”.
 
Twenty three-year-old Van Breda has pleaded not guilty to three counts of murder, one of attempted murder and one of obstructing the ends of justice. 
 
It is the State’s case that he attacked his family with an axe, and that his sister Marli, who was 16 at the time, survived the attack – not as a result of a lesser attack, but rather because of a “miracle”.
 
The attack in the family home in the De Zalze, Stellenbosch security estate in 2015 shocked the country, and the sensational trial has dominated headlines for more than 60 days.
 
The defence has its final stab at convincing the court of Van Breda’s version, that a laughing, axe-wielding intruder was behind the attack, and that the “State did not prove its case beyond reasonable doubt”. 
 
Botha said “what the court needs to decide is the identity of the attackers”. 
 
He said there was an attempt by the State to create the impression that the Van Breda home was impenetrable, that nothing appeared to be stolen, there had been no breach of the perimeters, that a heated argument on January 26 from 10pm until midnight had preceded the attacks, and that unlike the rest of his family, Van Breda had suffered superficial injuries that were self-inflicted. 
“One can speculate, one can say the dog was in the garage, one can say he smoked cigarettes while waiting for his sister to die. One can convince oneself that the State has made out a strong case. The onus is on the State, not on the accused, to prove its case. We submit that the conclusion cannot be that the state proved itself beyond doubt. The actual evidence points the other way, or at the very least creates reasonable doubt.”
He said the accused had made a “good witness” and had not deviated from his version of events. 
 
Botha argued that the circumstantial evidence presented by the State supported the accused’s narrative and not the State’s.
 
“The circumstantial evidence presented by the State to prove its case against the accused does not warrant, as the only reasonable inference, that the accused was the person who attacked his family.”

 

Defence advocate Piet Botha is expected to present closing arguments in the Western Cape High Court on Tuesday in the sensational trial of triple murder accused Henri Van Breda.

On Monday, senior State prosecutor Susan Galloway presented the State’s final arguments describing the circumstantial evidence against the 23-year-old as “overwhelming”.

Galloway told the court that Van Breda’s version of what happened in the early hours of January 27, 2015 “cannot be reasonably possibly true”.

“His version is fabricated and should be rejected as false.”

Van Breda claimed that a laughing, axe-wielding intruder, wearing a balaclava and dark clothing was behind the attack at his family home in the security estate De Zalze in Stellenbosch.

The vicious axe attacks left his mother Teresa, father Martin and brother Rudi, dead. His sister Marli, who was 16 at the time, survived the attack, but Galloway said this was “not indicative of a lesser attack, but rather a miracle”.

Galloway said he committed the murders with premeditation. “He had to have armed himself. The axe and knife were in two different locations, he had to go there to arm himself.”

She said “he did nothing” for almost three hours after the attacks, despite the fact that Marli was still alive.

“He could have been waiting for them all to die while he smoked his cigarettes.”

Galloway also highlighted the discrepancies in Van Breda’s plea explanation and his testimony in court, submitting that it was “quite apparent that he amended his version as an afterthought”.

She said Van Breda had made a poor impression as a witness, spoke confidently and in a “superior manner” at times and gave a “well rehearsed” version of his plea explanation.

“He at all times tried to reason his decision-making and demeanour during and after the attack. Even when he couldn’t remember something he tried to justify his decisions.”

She described him as having “selective memory loss”, able to recall great detail in some instances, but in others nothing at all.

Furthermore, he could not explain why the intruder or intruders had chosen the Van Breda house in the middle of the estate, did not remove valuables, attacked the family with “extensive chop wounds”, but left an eyewitness “virtually unharmed”.

– African News Agency (ANA)

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