The van Breda triple-axe murder trial resumed in the Cape High Court today with Henri’s defence team calling an expert neurologist, Dr James Butler to the witness stand. Dr Butler was asked to testify after he diagnosed Henri “unequivocally” with juvenile myoclonic epilepsy.
The importance of this evidence emerged mid-November when Henri allegedly had a seizure on the afternoon of Wednesday, 8 November 2017, while he was discussing the trial with his girlfriend.
His girlfriend described the episode as one where “Henri abruptly lost his memory, fell forward and then back with his eyes rolling back in his head”. She then, after speaking with her father, who is a general practitioner in medicine, contacted Dr Butler to request his assistance.
Dr Butler, during his evidence today, told the court that he was not there to present evidence in favour of either party but that he was only there to tell the court the scientific evidence and allow the court to draw its conclusions from that evidence. He noted that he was not accepting remuneration for his work to support his objectivity and that he had initially considered and approached his first consult with Henri, with the mindset that this may very well be a malingering seizure, he was well aware of Henri’s circumstances given the media attention the case had received.
A malingering seizure, he said, was when the patient “fakes” a seizure in order to achieve a secondary gain. He said that this would often occur in cases where patients were trying to get out of jail or receive insurance or state funded benefits.
With this in mind, Dr Butler consulted with Henri and took an EEG scan the very next day. The doctor told the court that Henri’s initial scans presented as normal with no abnormalities, however, he said that this test was not conclusive in the case of a negative result and as such he admitted Henri for 24-hour observation. During this observation Henri’s brain activity was constantly measured and the result lead to Dr Butler diagnosing Henri with juvenile myoclonic epilepsy. He confirmed that there was no possibility that this could be as a result of malingering.
When discussing the events of that night and hearing Henri’s version of what happened before he lost consciousness, and after he regained consciousness, Dr Butler concluded that he could not confirm that Henri had lost consciousness for 2 hours and 40 minutes. But added that due to the lack of independent evidence, it was possible that Henri had sustained a seizure and lost consciousness for that period of time.
He supported his views about Henri’s seizure by noting that the telephone call, in which he seems unusually calm, is consistent with someone in a postictal state. This, coupled with the fact that there was evidence of urine on his shorts, dark rings under his eyes and his dull appearance in a photograph of him taken that morning in the ambulance, were all signs which were consistent with someone recovering from a seizure.
What does this mean for Henri’s case?
The fact that Henri did not immediately act to save his family and call the ambulance has always been a factor which weighs heavily against Henri’s defence. However, it is not the sole factor which implicates Henri of the murders that night.
The court will now consider this evidence as a reasonable possible explanation for the lapse in time between the murders and Henri’s phone call to emergency personnel.
Tomorrow we expect to hear more from Dr Butler.