Photography Gallo Images / Rapport / Conrad Bornman

CapeTownEtc is privileged to have a presence in the courtroom at the Van Breda trial. Qualified & practising commercial attorney and content contributor Tracey Stewart attended proceedings on Monday of the much -followed trial, where the accused has pleaded not guilty. Bone-chilling details emerged throughout and here is Tracey’s account of an intriguing day for all those who have been following the story.

Finally, the highly anticipated Axe murder trial commenced. It commenced with the state reading out the charges to the accused:

Three murder charges, one attempted murder charge and one charge of obstructing justice by tampering evidence, inflicting wounds and providing incorrect information to the police.

The three murder charges are pre-meditated and as such carry a minimum sentence of life imprisonment.

Henri entered a plea of not-guilty to all five counts and his legal team, lead by Advocate Pieter Botha proceeded to read a plea explanation into the record. The plea explanation is the accused’s version and it solidifies the issues which are in dispute between the state and the accused.

Henri’s version, in short, is that his family had drank wine, eaten dinner together, watched a movie and then went to bed, with their doors open.

Henri watched a program on his laptop while Rudi and his brother fell asleep. It seems that Rudi and Henri were sharing a room as Rudi was visiting and was due to go back to Australia in February, although this isn’t entirely clear from his version.

Henri got up and went to the toilet, he did not turn on the lights, while on the toilet he heard loud banging noises, they were strange noises. He got up and left the bathroom and that’s when he saw a silhouette of an attacker attacking Rudi, who was in his bed, with an object. Henri stood there frozen and then he called for help.

The light then went on as his father ran into the room, it was only then when Henri noticed the attacker was dressed in dark clothes, gloves and a scarf – Henri later identifies him as being a black person. Henri’s father immediately lunged at Rudi’s attacker who turned around and struck his father with the axe. His father’s body went limp as the attacker continued to strike his father with the axe, laughing as he attacked him.

Rudi then heard his Mom ask what was going on, then the attacker left the room, Henri didn’t follow or see what was happening to his mother.

The attacker then came back to Henri and Henri managed to take the axe from the attacker, he was surprised how easily he had managed to disarm him. With Henri holding the axe in his right hand he tried to strike the attacker with the axe but hit him with the blunt side, the attacker then produced a knife and tried to stab Henri, eventually stabbing him on his left shoulder. The attacker then fled, with Henri in pursuit- Henri threw the axe at the attacker before losing his footing and falling down the staircase.

His version indicates that the attackers entered or exited the kitchen door as he noticed it was open when he went downstairs.

After the attacker/s (he only saw one attacker but is sure he heard two men talking in Afrikaans) left Henri took his phone out of his pocket and tried to call the emergency services. He couldn’t find the number and he then tried calling his girlfriend who didn’t answer. He went back upstairs, he noticed Marli lying next to his Mom and saw her move, he heard gargling sounds and that’s when he lost consciousness. This explains why he only called the emergency services in first thing in the morning, when the attacks seem to have taken place at about 2 am. We will wait for the state’s evidence on this.

We will wait for the state’s evidence on this.

When Henri woke up, he was lying at the top of the stairs, disoriented and he had noticed blood at the top of the stairs where he woke up, assuming this was his own blood. He then went downstairs and checked the emergency numbers on the fridge but he was panicking and so he lit up a cigarette to calm himself down.  He needed to calm down and speak slowly and calmly as he suffered from a stutter as a child. Eventually, he managed to get through to emergency services.

Unfortunately, the rest of Henri’s version points to the fact that the police handled the matter incorrectly. In that they:

  1. Took him from the scene from medical treatment and at the doctor the police asked whether his wounds were self-inflicted, to which the doctor responded that “she would see what she can do”;
  2. Detained him in a room without feeding him;
  3. Never dressed him, he was only in boxer shorts all day;
  4. Placed him in an ice cold room and indicated that Marli had given them her version and asked if his would be the same;
  5. Asked him to give a statement and took a statement from him without charging him or reading him any of his Miranda rights;
  6. Used that statement, which they seem to have unlawfully obtained, as the only basis for charging him;
  7. Stepped over evidence on the crime scene;
  8. Moved and touched evidence on the crime scene.

We then heard the evidence in chief of Sergeant Kleynhans, one of the first officers to arrive on duty. Sergeant Kleynhans went into great detail about the difficulty he had finding the house, the estate security refused him access to one of the gates and eventually after looking at a map of the estate, security needed to escort Kleynhans to the house. I am assuming evidence will be lead by the defence that it took much longer than it should have for the police to arrive at the scene.

Kleynhans, on arriving noticed that the front door was slightly open, he could see the accused standing in grey boxers and white socks with blood on his arms. Kleynhans took out his firearm and proceeded into the house, he asked the accused if he was ok and told him to sit down. The accused then told him that his family had been attacked with an axe and they were upstairs.

Kleynhans noted that Henri’s breath smelt of very strong alcohol and assumed he had been drinking heavily the night before. He also noted that the accused seemed to be very emotional, and may have been crying before he arrived.

Kleynhans was surprised by how “orderly and normal” the condition of the house seemed to be, he said, downstairs, nothing at all looked out of place, one would not know that any attack took place just by walking in downstairs. He also immediately noticed a laptop on the table and a handbag on the chair. The handbag he later went through and found cash in, while he was looking for a medical aid card.

He then proceeded up the stairs and that is when he saw the bloodied axe lying on the stairs, this as the first indication that an attack had taken place. At the top of the stairs he noticed Marli and her mother, Marli’s leg moved and Kleynhans immediately took out his phone and called for medical treatment.

Kleyhans lead evidence that there was no blood at the top of the stairs. In contradiction with Henri who stated he saw blood there after regaining consciousness. In photos from the scene there is blood at the top of the stairs. When shown this, Kleynhans persisted with his version that it wasn’t there when he first went up. He explained that possibly when the paramedics removed Marli the blood got onto the top of the stairs.  This matter is obviously important to both sides. Expert evidence should shed some light on this.

Kleynhans was adamant that he did not touch anything around the bodies or in the room Marli and her Mom lay except for his cellphone when he took it out to take photographs and call the paramedics.

Seems almost certain that the defence is going to have a very different version and we will have a better understanding of that once Advocate Botha cross examines Kleynhans next week Tuesday.

Importantly, in Henri’s plea he noted the position of Marli’s leg when he ran passed her in pursuit of the attacker as being different from the position it was in in photographs later shown to him by the police.

Kleynhans then went back downstairs and he went all around the house to make sure that it was safe and secure. He testified that he noticed a box of cigarettes on the kitchen counter with cigarette butt’s lying on the kitchen floor. He thought it was strange that there was no ashtray and that the cigarette box had been torn open, not opened normally.

Kleynhans contradicts Henri’s version that the attackers entered/exited through the open kitchen door because he stated that, in his view, the attackers would not have been able to climb over the wall to get in or out of that part of the house. He said there were high walls around the property. In his view, if the attacker did run out the kitchen he would have had to run back into the house and out the front door to exit the property.

That is all from today’s proceedings and the state’s first witness. Cross examination will take place next week Tuesday and that will give us a much better idea of the issues which the defence will take with the way the scene was handled by one of the first arriving officers.

Tomorrow there will be an inspection in loco, where the judge, the accused and the respective legal teams will inspect the crime scene at 10am, in Stellenbosch. On Wednesday the matter will be back in court where reports on this inspection will be handed up and then depending on time, the matter will be postponed to Tuesday 2 May where the defence will start the cross-examination of Kleynhans.

From today’s evidence difficulties for the state will be the fact that on his own version, Kleynhans, walked around the house without any protective gear on, he walked around Marli and her mother’s body and at one stage jumped over a blood stain. He also went through the handbag without any gloves or other protective gear on.

Already, it seems as if the state may have a difficult trial ahead of them if due process was not followed in both the investigation of the crime scene and arrest of Henri Van Breda.

The most important thing to remember is that Henri need not prove that his version is true, beyond reasonable doubt, the state carries the onus of proving their version, beyond reasonable doubt. So the believability of Henri’s version is not relevant unless he takes the stand.


Photography Gallo Images / Rapport / Conrad Bornman

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