Prof rejects Van Breda's explanation for wounds

2017-05-24 19:13
Henri van Breda is charged with multiple counts of murder. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

Henri van Breda is charged with multiple counts of murder. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

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Cape Town - Two demonstrations, including one with the knife used in the De Zalze axe attacks, were not enough to convince forensic pathologist Professor Johan Dempers that Henri Van Breda's version of how he sustained his injuries was plausible.

Dempers told the Western Cape High Court on Wednesday that in his line of work he was taught to "never say never", but the difference in the level of violence in inflicting the wounds on the Van Breda family to the injuries sustained by Henri showed no reason why the "assailant" would be "fighting differently" with Henri.

He testified that it was not a common occurrence for a group of people to be attacked and for the wounds of one to differ so significantly.

When presented by Advocate Pieter Botha, for Henri van Breda, with a demonstration of how his client claims he sustained his chest wounds, Dempers appeared unconvinced.

Botha put it to him that the two cuts on either side of Henri's chest could have been caused by his assailant aiming for his neck and being pushed away, resulting in the uniform wounds being caused by one slicing action.

AS IT HAPPENED: Evidence of self inflicted wounds mounts against Henri


Dempers pointed out that it appeared that the cuts came from different directions, due to the curvature.

"If there was a slash, it would be very difficult to impossible for them to be exactly the same depth or morphology. They have the same appearance and same depth. The likelihood of this is very, very rare," he testified.

Botha said Van Breda had explained that after attempting to try and cut his throat, they had become involved in a tussle, during which they held at each other's arms - Van Breda with the axe in his hand after disarming the intruder, while the man held a knife.

According to the accused, the attacker cut at Van Breda's arm, resulting in the horizontal wounds.

He did a demonstration on Advocate Matthys Combrink using a ruler.

Dempers found this scenario unlikely, as the cuts were perfectly perpendicular.

"If this was a perfectly controlled dance of a fight, then yes. But it wasn't. [The scratches] are exactly equidistant and the same depth," he countered.

Dempers had also conducted an experiment on a piece of pork to determine whether Van Breda's claim that the knife had become stuck in his abdomen after being stabbed by the intruder was plausible.

Self-inflicted wounds

He lodged the knife in by a depth of 5cm, and when he shook it, the knife remained there for about two or three seconds.

Dempers explained, however, that the pig skin was significantly thicker than that of a human, and the tissue was not as pliable as that of a person.

A number of factors need to be considered when determining whether wounds may possibly be self-inflicted, he told the court.

He pointed out that the knife wound was on the left side of the body, making it more possible that it was inflicted by someone using his right hand.

Van Breda is right-handed, and the fact was not contested.

Dempers also said he found it strange that Van Breda supposedly hit the assailant with the axe on the opposing shoulder to the hand holding the knife.

"The arm was there. It doesn't fit in with what is expected to happen in a fight or flight situation."

He told the court he believed the injuries to Van Breda's arms and chest were more likely self-inflicted, and that the wound in his abdomen may be too.

He couldn't say if the injuries to Van Breda's back and head were self-inflicted.

Police statement

Botha asked if it was possible that someone may have caused the injuries.

Dempers responded: "Yes, but the victim would have to be standing still. The depth and characteristics of the cuts are not in keeping with an attack."

Last week, clinical forensic specialist Dr Marianne Tiemensma testified that Van Breda's wounds were superficial and typical of self-inflicted injuries. The only injuries he was unlikely to have caused were those on his head, back, and leg, she said.

The 22-year-old is on trial on charges of murdering his parents Martin, 54, and Teresa, 55, and brother Rudi, 22, with an axe, attempting to murder his younger sister Marli, and defeating the ends of justice.

He has pleaded not guilty, claiming that a balaclava-clad man attacked the family in their home in the De Zalze Estate in Stellenbosch on January 27, 2015, and then escaped.

Meanwhile, a trial within a trial is expected during proceedings on Thursday as the admissibility of Van Breda's statement made to police the day of the murders should be allowed as evidence.

According to Botha, he spoke to the police in his capacity as a witness, and that he had not been informed that he was a possible suspect and had a right to legal advice.

Read more on:    henri van breda  |  cape town  |  crime  |  van breda murders

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