Van Breda trial: What the State witnesses said

2017-10-09 06:09
Murder accused Henri van Breda. (Jaco Marais, Gallo Images, Beeld)

Murder accused Henri van Breda. (Jaco Marais, Gallo Images, Beeld)

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Cape Town - Henri van Breda’s defence team is expected to call their first witness in the Western Cape High Court on Monday as the triple murder accused returns to the dock.

He has pleaded not guilty to axing his parents and brother to death, seriously injuring his sister Marli, and defeating the ends of justice.

He alleged that an intruder wearing a balaclava, gloves and dark clothes was behind the attack, and that he had heard other voices of people speaking Afrikaans in their home in January 2015.

Van Breda claimed that after a fight with the axe-wielding intruder, who was also armed with a knife, the man escaped.

Here is a wrap of the State’s case.

Sergeant Adrian Kleynhans was the first officer at the scene and found no sign of forced entry. He said Henri had been emotional, but not crying.

The officer testified that besides the bloody axe on the stairs, the ground floor appeared fine, with valuables all in place.

The weapon was the first sign of something being wrong and when he ascended the stairs, he found Marli and Teresa.

He phoned for help when Marli's arm and leg moved.

He took cellphone photos of the scene before allowing paramedics to work on the teen. While doing this, he saw Rudi and Martin’s bodies in the room.

(File, Netwerk24)

Security manager Marcia Rossouw testified that the De Zalze Estate perimeter had not been breached the night of the murders.

She said four alarm activations at De Zalze the night of the murders were due to low power.

She conceded that entry was possible if someone activated the fence with a branch and entered the estate over the already activated fence, but argued that its wide camera network would have picked this up.

(File, Netwerk24)

De Zalze security guard and first responder Lorenzo Afrika said the perimeter alarm had not been activated the night/morning of the murders.

He, along with another security officer had been responsible for patrolling around De Zalze’s 7.5km fence on that night shift.

(File, Netwerk24)

Night shift commander Edgar Wyngaard also confirmed that he was not aware of any alarms going off at the estimated time of the murders.

He said nothing unusual was reported or spotted that night, nor seen on camera footage afterward.

The estate, he said, had good security infrastructure and strict protocols. This included electric fences, bloodhound patrols, and registration processes for visitors.

Wyngaard had driven down Goske Street the night of the axe murders and noticed nothing out of the ordinary, he testified.

(File, Netwerk24)

Emergency call centre operator Janine Philander initially thought Henri’s emergency call was a prank, claiming to have heard him giggle.

He was “quite calm and co-operative”, while in her experience, callers reporting a home invasion or assault were frantic, shouted, screamed, were confused, or unable to recall contact numbers.

The call lasted longer than any of her previous calls for crimes of a similar nature as Henri stayed on the line for between 20 and 30 minutes, she recalled.

In the recordings, Henri repeatedly gives the address of his family home and gives a second address as he was afraid the first might not show up on Google Maps.

In the call, he offers to stand in the road to meet them.

He asks for multiple ambulances.

"A man attacked my whole family. My sister is moving. I don't think the rest are alive," he said.

Henri became emotional when listening to the call being played in court.

Defence Advocate Pieter Botha said Van Breda was accused of sounding guilty for being polite.

(File, Netwerk24)

Former neighbour Stephanie Op't Hof said she had heard raised voices coming from the Van Breda house between 22:00 and shortly after midnight on the morning of the axe attack.

She testified that she was unable to hear what was being said, what language was being spoken, or how many people were involved.

Op’t Hof, an interior decorator, said she had been working late and had gone to bed after midnight.

The mother of two said her baby monitor woke her just before 04:00 and she had found her infant was wide awake. She took him to her bed, where she found her older child too, also wide awake.

Defence advocate Matthys Combrink told her that Martin, Rudi and Henri had been watching Star Trek 2 that night, on a new home theatre system, but Op’t Hof countered that what she heard was not a film.

She said she didn’t phone security or police because she “didn't think they were going to kill each other” and didn't want to interfere.

No one had sought assistance from her that night or morning, she said, and she found it strange that Henri didn't come to her door to ask for help.

(File, Netwerk24)

Domestic worker Precious Munyongani was the only one of the witness who recognised the axe allegedly used in the murder, testifying that it looked like the one stored on a shelf in the scullery where she used to fetch the ironing board.

She said she could not recall if the family ever used it or what it had been used for.

The pictures of the knife taken from the scene looked similar to one in the cutlery drawer of the murdered family’s home, she told the court.

Munyongani said she never witnessed instances where the family members quarrelled or fought with each other.

Dr Michelle Van Zyl from Vergelegen Mediclinic saw Henri twice on January 27, 2015 - when he asked for one of his stab wounds to be examined for possible stitches, and accompanied by police who informed her he was a suspect in a murder investigation.

During his first visit, Henri’s emotional status was noted as confident, not emotional, and she detected a slight smell of alcohol on his breath.

When he returned with the police, he “wasn't so friendly and jovial”, but appeared calm and confident and answered questions with one-word answers.

Former girlfriend Bianca van der Westhuizen, whom Henri phoned after the murders, said she assumed he had phoned her because he didn’t have anyone else to call.

She hadn’t answered his first call in the early hours or later that morning, when her phone was on aeroplane mode before her classes started.

She saw his WhatsApp messages during first period, that there was “an emergency of some sorts”. She replied to him but he never received them, and her calls didn’t go through or he didn’t answer.

She testified that Henri and Marli seemed close and that he admired Rudi “a lot”.

(File, Netwerk24)

Marli’s ex-boyfriend James Reade-Jahn’s cellphone was confiscated by police two days after the murders for conversations he had with members of the family to be downloaded.

During his testimony, a message he had sent to Marli about two weeks before the murders was brought up.

"I know i told you i would tell you everything - right now I feel i want to murder the people around you. But i am being strong to help you".  

He said he had sent it to her after she told him about an argument the family had had at the dinner table about Marli’s weight and the seriousness of her relationship with Reade-Jahn.

In his testimony, he described the message as a mistake, saying he "wasn’t thinking".

"It was not the right things to say to comfort her. It wasn't directed to mean anything," he told the court.

He also said the axe – exhibit one – looked similar to the one he had seen at the Van Breda house, but that the one he remembered had a black top.

Henri’s uncle Andre van Breda said his brother was an exceptional businessman who had no enemies.

He told the court he had visited the house after it had been cleaned by forensic cleaners. He couldn’t see that anything was missing.

Henri had told his advocates that he did not enter the house after the murders, but Andre said he recalled Henri accompanying the family inside on one of the two instances the family had been there.

He recalled them being in the kitchen, with Henri indicating that he wanted a bottle of exotic whisky and some of the wines.

The whisky, according to the murder accused, had sentimental value as it had been a gift to his dad.

Maternal uncle Andre du Toit, one of the Van Bredas’ only relatives in the province, said after the murders, Henri was emotional and didn’t talk a lot as when he speaks fast, he stutters.

He was informed about the murders when he was called to the scene by the estate manager.

He said he was asked by station commander Colonel Damon Beneke about the family’s relationship, and he replied that he didn’t know of any problems.

At the police station, he and his wife were told that they could not see Henri.

He said he had encouraged Henri to go to hospital after seeing his stab wound.

His testimony formed part of a trial-within-a-trial after the defence argued that Henri had not been informed of his rights and had been questioned as a witness, not as a suspect.

Forensic pathologist Professor Johan Dempers testified it was uncommon for a group to be attacked and the wounds of one of the injured to differ significantly.

He noted the difference in the level of violence in inflicting the wounds on the Van Breda family to the injuries sustained by Henri, and could not understand why the "assailant" would be "fighting differently" with the accused.

Henri's wounds, Dempers told the court, are consistent with what the theory says about self-inflicted wounds, and said he found it hard to believe that the assailant would only scratch him.

Henri is right handed. The abdominal wounds on left side makes it more possible that a right-handed person inflicted them, he testified.

Dempers also questioned why, during Henri’s ostensible tussle with the axeman – who held a knife in his right hand – he used the axe which he had wrestled away from the attacker to strike the assailant's shoulder.

“In a situation like that I find it hard that you would hit someone on the opposing shoulder and not the hand holding the knife,” he said.

General practitioner Dr Lizette Albertse examined Henri on January 27, 2015, noting four parallel, superficial cuts on his left forearm, two above his right nipple and another above that, a stab wound on the left thorax, one cut above his left nipple and two stab wounds to the left abdominal area.

On his back, he had a scratch above and below his scapula. These didn't break the skin, she noted. He had two abrasions on his back. There was old scarring on his knee, a bruise and swelling just below it, and another two old bruises.

He had swelling above his left eye and a bruise under it.

She didn't consider the injuries serious and did not ask police to take him for treatment.

When police asked her if she thought the wounds were self-inflicted, she referred them to a forensic specialist.

She didn't find clinical proof of drug or alcohol use.

(File, Netwerk24)

Clinical forensic specialist Dr Marianne Tiemensma said the wounds Henri sustained during the axe attack were superficial and typical of self-inflicted injuries, with the only injuries he was unlikely to have caused being those on his head, back, and leg.

One would instinctively pull away when attacked by an assailant and not allow linear cuts to be made, but the accused’s cut wounds were regular and of equal depth, uniform and parallel, Tiemensma testified.

"Why would you allow [your assailant] to make exactly the same cut at the same place? These are completely horizontal; fine and delicate movements," she said.

She questioned why the intruder would "tease" him with superficial wounds, pointing out that his injuries were a strong contrast in comparison to those of his family in terms of intent and force.

She said she came to the conclusion of self-infliction after noting that the injuries were superficial and non-fatal, with the only danger to life being if it became infected.

Sergeant Clinton Malan testified that although littered with grammatical and language errors, the contents of the statement given to him by Van Breda was accurate, despite the accused claiming it was not verbatim what he had told police the day of the murders.

Malan also denied Van Breda’s claim that he had responded to his request for legal representation with: "Why? Are you guilty?"

A trial-within-a-trial took place regarding whether his initial police statement should be allowed into evidence, with the defence arguing that the accused was being questioned as a suspect and not a witness, and should have been informed of his rights.

Judge Siraj Desai eventually allowed the statement into evidence.

Read the statement here

Hawks investigator Cornelius Engelbrecht confirmed that records showed Henri made his first call that morning at 04:24 to then-girlfriend Bianca van der Westhuizen, which went unanswered.

Three minutes later, he did a Google search. Almost three hours later, he dialled 10777 at 07:12 – the wrong number for emergency services, which is 10177. Also at 07:12, he phoned 107 from the house’s landline.

At 07:20, he again tried to phone Van der Westhuizen. This call was also not answered.

Van Breda checked his location via Google Maps, at 07:36 and two minutes later he tried to phone Van der Westhuizen again.

According to Van Breda, his location showed as 10 Allerman Street, but Engelbrecht said, when he downloaded the data from Van Breda’s phone, the address showed as Goske Street.

An incoming call was noted on the landline at 07:39, which Engelbrecht was unable to trace.

Van Breda again tried to call Van der Westhuizen at 07:44, which was followed by a text message to her at 07:45, reading, "Emergency please pick up the phone".

A minute later, he tried to call her again. This also went unanswered.

Two missed calls were made to Van Breda’s phone by Van der Westhuizen at 08:19 and 09:10.

(File, Netwerk24)

Crime scene investigator Warrant Officer Andre Hitchcock said he had never collected so many samples from a single crime scene. It had taken police three weeks to collect all the forensic evidence from the property.

He recalled that the house had been neat when he arrived, which he found out of the ordinary.

He photographed and made a video of the scene, which was played in court. Henri was allowed out of the dock so that he didn’t have to view the footage.

Captain Danie van der Westhuizen, a shoe print analyst, said evidence of 38 bloody shoe prints were collected at the Van Breda house, of which 36 were confirmed to belong to officials who had responded to the murders that day.

Most were Magnum boots, worn by emergency services and security industry employees, a pair of black Bronx shoes and a more casual shoe belonging to Constable Zuko Matho, the initial investigating officer who died following an illness in August 2016.

He said the remaining two prints, found in the en suite bathroom of the room where Martin and Rudi van Breda's bodies lay, were not considered by him to have been made by shoes.

(File, Netwerk24)

Captain Nicholas Steyn was the first one who heard Henri’s account that a balaclava-clad intruder attacked his family.

Steyn, who was part of a task team established to investigate a spate of robberies by a balaclava gang, said Henri was in an ambulance when he spoke to him.

The details are the same as the version given in Henri’s not guilty plea explanation, read out in court at the start of his trial.

Steyn said there was no sign of forced entry and that in his experience cellphones, laptops and small valuables are typically taken during robberies. These were, however, still in the house.

“The scene wasn’t turned upside down. Usually, a house robbery would, for example, see items thrown out of cupboards,” Steyn said.

(File, Netwerk24)

Investigating officer Marlon Appollis told the court that no one matching the description Henri had given of the balaclava-clad axe man had ever been found.

He said police were generally aware of the usual suspects involved in burglaries in an area. However, nobody could give any workable information about the "big" intruder Van Breda had claimed was behind his parents and brother’s murders.

He testified that past incidents at De Zalze were analysed. Between February 2014 and February 2015 only theft cases were reported for insurance purposes. Domestic workers and delivery people were suspected to have been involved and none involved a breach of the estate's security.

Sergeant Jonathan Oliphant of the police’s criminal records centre testified that he found 53 prints at 12 Goske Street.

These included those of the family, two domestic workers, a gardener, and Marli's ex-boyfriend James Reade-Jahn. The others were unidentifiable.

Van Breda’s right thumbprint was found on the blade of the knife. No prints were found on the axe.

Oliphant said he checked the boundary wall for prints with his naked eye, with a special light and by spraying a chemical. He found no prints or signs of activity.

Ballistics expert Captain Candice Brown testified that Van Breda’s claim of throwing an axe at a fleeing intruder the morning of his family's slaying was possible, but not likely,

Brown said she came to the conclusion that a sharp edged tool had caused the damage, and that there had been certainty of direction.

Chief forensic analyst Lieutenant Colonel Sharlene Otto said DNA belonging to Rudi and Teresa van Breda was found under Henri’s fingernails, and in a corner of the shower.

No unknown DNA was found in the family’s home.

A total of 216 samples were submitted from the scene, far more than what they would usually receive, she explained.

Despite the high cost of running so many submissions through its systems, as well as the time needed to do this alongside dealing with other cases, all of the samples were tested, Otto said.

Blood stain pattern analyst Captain Marius Joubert said the blood spatter and blood stains do not support triple murder accused Henri Van Breda's version of what happened the day of the murders.

He said blood stains and patterns were found in the bathroom and shower, areas which had not been entered by the supposed intruder according to Henri’s statement. The evidence indicates that bloody objects had been cleaned or washed in the shower, and macroscopic traces of the blood had been detected through the use of chemicals.

Henri’s claim of confronting and chasing the suspect, as well as falling and fainting on the staircase was also considered unlikely. Joubert said this version was inconsistent with the blood flow patterns on his chest and left arm, which suggest minimal to no movement of the upper chest and left arm after he sustained the injuries.

The investigator also said it was improbable that Henri’s positioning in the bedroom at the time of the attack was accurate. The grey shorts and white socks he had been wearing at the time indicate that he had been in close proximity to Rudi, Martin and Teresa at the time of the attack.

Henri claimed when his brother and father had been attacked, he had been in the bathroom doorway, and while he had apparently been in the bedroom his mother was attacked in the passageway.

Joubert told the court he was of the opinion that the family had been attacked within a short period and that time had passed before Rudi’s body was moved or dragged from the bed to where it had eventually been found. There was no indication that Rudi had been mobile after sustaining his injuries, he pointed out.

The grey duvet had been removed from Henri’s bed after the attack, according to the interruption of the blood spatter, and placed or thrown next to Rudi.

The pattern created by Henri allegedly throwing the axe at the fleeing attacker was also unconvincing as the result showed the object was under the control of the handler, Joubert found.

He said the instrument had been in motion and should have released spatter from the axe resulting in cast off patterns higher on the surrounding wall.

Henri’s claim of being attacked with the knife by the supposed laughing intruder was also inconsistent with the bloodstain pattern analysis, Joubert said.

The knife had been found partially under Rudi’s bed, with spatter and non-spatter blood stains visible, he explained.

Two of the stains were created after the knife was positioned as it was found, and it had been exposed to “multiple blood shedding events”, Joubert found.  

Forensic analyst Lieutenant Colonel Henry Stewart examined 14 hair samples from the Van Breda house.

Van Breda claimed the attacker was a black man and wore a balaclava, dark clothes, and gloves.

According to Stewart, hair of “African origin” was curly or kinked.

All of the hair collected was straight, and either red, blonde or black, he said. 

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