Today, the van Breda trial was postponed to 7 August 2017 following the finalization of the evidence of ballistics expert Captain Brown.

The reason for the postponement is twofold – the court is needed for another matter from next week and subsequent to that, the court will go into recess, with the next available date being August, 7th, 2017. Judge Desai indicated that from 28 August he is reserved to hear another matter.

So, the trial is set to continue between August 7th and 28th, a three week period in which the state has indicated that they should finalise their case against Henri.

Of course, the defence will then need to start their case – depending on whether or not they bring a discharge application – and the success or not of such an application. It is thus questionable whether this trial will be finalised in 2017.

Back to today, where the evidence of Captain Brown was tested by the defence and finalised.

 

SOURCE OF THE WALL DAMAGE

We heard from the defence regarding the impact marks on the wall at the door of Henri’s room, as well as the impact marks on the entrance wall. It was revealed that a gurney used to remove the deceased’s bodies from the scene was the more likely cause of the damage – given that the marks at the entrance to the boys’ door and the front entrance seemed to have been made between the time Hitchcock took photographs of the scene (on January, 27th) and the time Captain Brown visited the scene on January, 28th).

After considering the photographs taken by Hitchcock before Captain Brown had visited the scene, Captain Brown conceded that the damage had been made after Hitchcock’s photographs had been taken.

In fact, Captain Brown had noted on an evidence bag, but not in her report, the possibility that the impact damage could have been made by the paramedics and/or their gurney.

Although Captain Brown had noted this as a possibility, she had not asked the police to bring the gurney to her so as to allow her to exclude the possibility that the gurney had caused the impact damage or include it for that matter. Instead, she had confined the views in her report to the possibility of the axe making those marks.

Captain Brown consistently stated that she had been asked to look at the axe as a possible cause for the damage which she had done. She had noted that any sharp metal object could have possibly caused the damage, but she could not compare any and all sharp metal objects which may have caused it as there were many possibilities. The defence refused to accept this as an explanation, but it will be up to Judge Desai and his assessor to decide on the reasonableness or not of this explanation.

Captain Brown was then cross-examined on her finding that it was possible, but unlikely, that Henri threw the axe, as he had explained in his plea explanation.

 

AN EXPERT IN BALLISTICS – AND PHYSICS?

Advocate Combrink questioned Captain Brown on her references to Newton’s law, in concluding the likelihood of the axe being thrown, when she admittedly did not have knowledge of the velocity of the axe nor did she have knowledge of the make up of the wall, in order to arrive at a conclusion on the likelihood of Henri’s version. Captain Brown conceded that she had not conducted any experiments, nor had she carried out any calculations in order to properly apply Newton’s law in arriving at a conclusion.

Captain Brown told the court that she had not thrown the axe herself, as she had not been instructed to do this to test his version, in fact his version had not even been put to her prior to her testimony.

With this admission, the defence put it to her that their expert had thrown the very axe in question, and each and every time the sharp edge of the blade struck the wall, it caused similar damage to the impact damage she had noted on the wall above the stair case.

Captain Brown obviously could not dispute this test as she had not conducted a similar experiment herself.

It follows that, depending on the defence’s expert and how his findings withstand cross-examination, without another version to dispute their experts view, it is probable that Henri’s version is what caused the damage on the wall above the staircase.

In conclusion, even after cross-examination, Captain Brown’s evidence does not advance the state’s case.

Judge Desai, after listening to brief submissions from the defence and the state on whether or not Warrant Officer Nel should be called to testify on the report she compiled, found in favor of the defence and ordered that the state subpoena Warrant Officer Nel to testify subject to her testimony being limited to the issues raised by Advocate Botha.

We look forward to hearing the DNA and blood splatter evidence when we return to court on 7 August 2017.

 

Photography K-leigh Siebritz / HM Images

Article written by

Tracey Ann Stewart

Legal expert and counsel for Highbury Media