After a lengthy postponement of the Van Breda axe murder trial, we are getting ready to get back into the court room this coming Monday, the 7th of August.

In anticipation of the continuation of the Van Breda trial, let’s chat about what we know already.

THE STATE’S CASE SO FAR

First, Henri murdered his Brother, Father and Mother with an axe;
Second, Henri attempted to murder his sister with the same axe;
Third, Henri inflicted stab wounds and other wounds on himself to make it look as if there had been an intruder who attacked him and his family.

Here’s the evidence we have heard so far to support that:

Was there evidence of an intruder?

From the evidence lead to date, it is highly unlikely that someone broke in, because:

1. There were no signs of an intruder gaining entry, through force, into the Van Breda house;

2. There is no evidence of a security breach in the estate. The state led three witnesses who work on the estate’s security who concurred on this;

3. This evidence is strengthened by the fact that nothing was taken from the house even though laptops, cellphones, televisions and handbags were readily accessible;

4. The axe used in the murders was identified as being the same axe the domestic worker, Precious, had seen in the pantry next to where her iron is kept.

5. The knife used to inflict Henri’s superficial wounds was part of a set of knifes also from inside the Van Breda home;

We have heard that no ‘foreign’ fingerprints were found on the scene and no finger prints were found on the axe. Henri’s thumb print was found on the blade of the knife.

No foreign footprints were found on the scene.

6. Henri had a dog named Sasha who slept in bed with him, no reports of a dog heard barking that night.

7. There were no unidentified hairs found at the crime scene. The strands of hair found in Marli’s hand were far too long to belong to Henri at approximately 20cm long, these blonde hairs, similar in make up, to Henri’s, were most likely Marli’s own hairs.

Family Relationship

Marli and her boyfriend, James, had exchanged heated texts about Marli’s relationship with her family, and that both her and James were very angry at Marli’s parents a few weeks before the murders. So angry, in fact, that her boyfriend wrote her a WhatsApp and said that he wanted to murder the people close to her.

James had an access card to the estate but he was investigated and the police have ruled him out as a suspect.

What happened that night?

The family was in the house together and an altercation between men was heard by a nearby neighbour between the hours of 10pm and midnight on 27 January 2017. Henri then googled emergency services at 04h16, presumably shortly after the attack but he spelt it incorrectly and never called any emergency personnel or police until almost 3 hours later. In Henri’s statement to the police he said that he did not know the emergency numbers, but we know that there was a list of emergency numbers stuck on the fridge in the kitchen.

James told us that he had heard Henri’s mother telling the children to use it in emergencies. Precious heard the same. Henri phoned his girlfriend, at that time, Bianka, at 04h24 and at 07h20 the morning of the murders. Bianka didn’t answer. He had also sent her WhatsApp messages during the night- we have yet to see these.

When Henri did phone the Emergency services at 07h24 that morning, the call was recorded and we heard it played in court, the call was very frustrating to listen to, all 23 minutes of it – you can refer to our previous story on this and listen to the call. In the call the operator said she thought Henri was giggling, the defence say he was stuttering. Listening to this call in the courtroom lead to quiet sobbing from Henri and outrage from many of you here on Facebook.

What is noteworthy is that during the call it is apparent Henri was aware that his sister was alive, peculiar if he intended to kill her.

We know that the family was close, apparently ‘normal’ and didn’t seem to have any issues according to witnesses for the state. The day before the murders took place Henri had collected his girlfriend from school and taken her for ice cream.

Crime Scene

This was a brutal crime scene. We heard from a first responder on the scene about the blood dripping down the stairs and that the scene was the worst he’d seen in his 40 year career in emergency services. The police told us that Henri was not a suspect initially when he was taken in for questioning. He was an eyewitness who was asked to give an account which is not substantially different from the version he has given the court in his plea explanation. These two versions can be compared because of the trail within a trial ruling. One glaring omission is the second intruder- he made no mention of a second intruder in the statement he gave to.

Pathology Evidence

Henri sustained superficial wounds to his chest, abdomen and forearms as well as a bump on his head. Two highly qualified and competent pathologists testified on these wounds and stated that these wounds were undoubtedly self-inflicted. In fact Professor Dempers said “if I could show you a textbook with a self-inflicted wound, you would see that they are identical”. The evidence in this regard was tested by the defence but without putting any version of Henri’s own pathologist to the state witnesses.

The defense tested this by re-enacting a static altercation in court to show how the wounds were possibly inflicted, neither of the state’s witnesses accepted the re-enactment as being a possible manner of inflicting those wounds. This also highlighted a stark contrast between the attack which Henri’s family members had sustained. Besides the serious and fatal wounds they had sustained from the axe we heard that his mother and brother had defensive wounds on their hands where they had tried to ward off an attack, we heard that there had been a significant scuffle between Marli and her attacker and we heard that Martin had no defensive wounds, however it appeared as if he had been unaware of the attack as he was hit with the axe on the back of his head.

Finally, there may have been traces of blood which had been wiped away in the bathroom, but nothing conclusive has been led to date. The state has advised that evidence on blood analysis as well as the analysis of possible swabs where blood had been wiped away in the bathroom is still to be lead. We can expect to deal with this when court resumes on Monday, August 7th.

Summary of the live streaming decision that was handed down on the 21st of June 2017.

You will remember at the very beginning of this trial an application was brought by media to live stream the court proceedings. The application was opposed by the defence team and the prosecution. This ended up going to the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) who had an opportunity to deal with the issue of live streaming or broadcasting court proceedings, for the very first time.

The infamous Oscar Pistorius’ trial was the first time this issue came before our courts, Van Breda was the second time and the result has been a unanimous judgment which effectively reverses the way these matters should be dealt with in future.

Before now, the media have had to formally apply for permission to do live broadcasts of proceedings but from here on, live broadcasts of any court proceedings – be it civil or criminal – will be permissible and only in certain cases will it not be. Any person who wishes to object to the default position will need to bring a formal application justifying why the media should not broadcast or stream and our courts will deal with it on a case by case basis.

So you can look forward to seeing even more of this trial, live, as it happens. It’s also interesting to note from a legal perspective that this trial has already made authoritative law.

27 court days of the trial have already taken place – including the ‘trial within a trial’ – which ended in a decision to allow Henri’s testimony, given to the police on the day of the murders, to be entered into evidence.

When the trial resumes on Monday, the state will be back at proving their case. Once they rest, it will be up to the defence to prove his innocence.

Photography K-leigh Siebritz / HM Images

 

Article written by

Tracey Ann Stewart

Legal expert and counsel for Highbury Media