The corner of a shower in the Van Breda house is turning out to be quite an important location for crime scene evidence, as Day 32 of the trial showed us today. The shower is located in the bathroom that Henri shared with his brother Rudi, and its where, we assume the state will argue, the accused showered after the gruesome triple-axe murder of his mother, father, brother, and attempted murder of his sister.

If you recall, back on day 23 of the Van Breda trial, the state asked to hand up a section 212 Affidavit regarding tests for possible blood in Henri’s bathroom which were conducted by the witness we heard from today, Warrant Officer Nel. The Defence had taken issue with the section 212 affidavit on Day 23, saying the tests done by Nel were presumptive and as such the Defence should be afforded the opportunity to test the evidence. Judge Desai granted the Defence’s request and today the state called Nel.

Nel advised the court that she had conducted tests for possible blood on the swabs she had received. We know these were collected from the scene by Warrant Officer Hitchcock and labeled “corner of shower floor”.

The Defence, quite correctly called this test into question back on Day 23, and used the opportunity to test it today. The court’s attention was drawn to the presumptive nature of crime scene blood tests, called Luminol and Hemastix, including the risks of false positives particularly if a certain chemical found in some household cleaners, was detected.

Nel explained the Hemastix test. When an evidence sample comes into contact with the Hemastix, if blood is detected, the colour changes from yellow to green. She reported that when she had conducted this test on the sample of possible blood taken from the shower floor, the Hemastix test turned green, a positive result for blood.

Unfortunately, Nel did not take a photograph of this result and confirmed that there is no way of verifying it other than by accepting Nel’s recordal in the section 212 report. As a result, the court, in deciding on the evidentiary value of Nel’s statement regarding this result, will have to take into account the presumptive nature of those findings, the Defence’s inability to verify those findings, the possibility of false positives in Hemastix tests, alongside Nel’s credibility as an expert witness. In my view, as an expert, Nel came across well and I see no reason for the court not to believe the result she recorded.

Advocate Galloway cleverly only asked one question in re-examination. She asked Nel to distinguish the presumptive nature of her results to the results of DNA. Nel stated the obvious, DNA is conclusive, a nice reminder to the court not to consider this evidence in isolation.

Lt. Coln. Otto told the court last week that the DNA, also taken from the corner of the shower floor, was most likely blood.  Due to the resilience of blood, it would not easily be washed away like skin cells would.

So when considered in isolation, Nel’s evidence of the possibility of blood is not that strong. The same applies to consideration of Otto’s DNA evidence, in isolation, as she stated it was “most likely” blood, it doesn’t seem strong.

When considering the two together, as the Judge has to do, it certainly seems most probable that the sample referred to was blood. As we near the end of the State’s case it is apparent that a lot of the evidence is circumstantial, but, a large amount of circumstantial evidence can be very influential.

We are back in court at 10am tomorrow morning, when the State will call one more witness this week. Next week is going to get interesting, when we expect to hear from the state’s blood splatter expert.

*Note: Some media are calling today Day 33, but since court was postponed yesterday, we’re calling it Day 32!

Follow me on Twitter for live, to-the-minute updates from the Van Breda trial.

 

Photography K-leigh Siebritz / HM Images

Article written by

Tracey Ann Stewart

Legal expert and counsel for Highbury Media