On Monday marked the beginning of the end of the triple axe murder trial against accused Henri van Breda in the Cape Town High Court.
Henri stands accused of the murder of three members of his family, and the attempted murder of his sister, which occurred in the early hours of 28 January 2015.
The order of events for the rest of the trial were disclosed by Judge Siraj Desai, no doubt with the view to remind counsel to keep their arguments concise and to the point.
The state’s case – represented by Advocate Susan Galloway – would have today, Monday, to give closing arguments in the matter against Henri. The defense, represented by Advocate Pieter Botha would have Tuesday, 13 February, to give their closing arguments – and the state would have an opportunity up until tea time on Wednesday to reply.
Once closing arguments have been completed, the Judge will reserve judgment and he will close the matter. He will then deliberate the arguments and all the evidence with his assessor, before giving his judgment, and ultimately sealing Henri’s fate.
There is no time in which judgment must be handed down, but Desai has a good appreciation of the speedy administration of justice and as such will likely provide us with an outcome within 2 to 3 months, depending on his current capacity.
Galloway used the full day to tie together the enormous amount of evidence, predominantly circumstantial, which has been lead in the matter.
The theme of her closing argument was to remind the court to look at the totality of the evidence rather than addressing each piece of evidence on its own.
She argued quite strongly on the security of the estate and the improbability of an intruder entering and exiting without being detected, without taking any valuables from the scene and without arming themselves and electing to use weapons that were in the Van Breda home.
Galloway raised a few issues, relating to the cross-examination of state witnesses, that the defence will need to deal with in their closing. Throughout the defence counsel had put alternative versions to the state witnesses which they said would be supported by various witnesses the defence would call later in the case. Most of these witnesses were not called.
For example, the evidence given by Dr Marianne Tiemensma and Professor Johan Dempers, relating to the self-inflicted wounds was not disputed by a defence expert, despite the fact that Botha told the state witnesses he would call his own expert, who would do just that.
Instead Botha called his client to deal with this evidence and give his version as to how the wounds were inflicted, placing the reliance entirely on the credibility of his client’s version. Perhaps a clever strategy adopted by the defence team, if the court accepts Henri as being a credible witness, it cannot accept inferences drawn by experts who were not there, the court then needs to accept Henri’s version.
This strategy only works if the court accepts that Henri is a credible witness and his version is true.
Galloway dealt extensively with Henri’s lack of emotion, his calm demeanor, referencing the telephone call with the emergency services and quite poignantly stating that the accused, despite knowing his sister was alive, chose to sit at the counter and smoke 3 cigarettes rather than help her.
In dealing with the blood in the shower, which belonged to Rudi and Henri, Galloway argued that while it was possible the blood was there as a consequence of the brothers’ shaving in the shower, for that to have been the case both Rudi and Henri must have shaved in the shower, cut themselves and bled in the same spot, prior to the murders and that the shower had not been cleaned since.
Directly related to this Galloway stated, is the fact that Henri had blood spatter on his shorts, however, he did not have any on his torso, which is consistent with him showering afterward.
The defence is going to take issue and jump all over the police investigators and how they could have transferred the blood from the room to the shower during their investigations.
Galloway then dealt with the police statement and the version the accused placed before court. She argued that initially the state found it strange how the police were attacked for the way they obtained that statement, the fight the defence put up against it’s admission, when in fact on the whole it was consistent with the version the accused gave in court.
Galloway argued that the reasons for this is that there were several material inconsistencies in the evidence which the accused needed to explain and so more detail and a few alterations were made to the version he placed before the court such as:
- The timeline the family went to bed. Henri added a detail later on that his brother, father and he had watched a Star Wars movie till late, this provides a reason for the fight heard by the neighbour.
- Henri’s description of his father “rugby tackling” the accused, an afterthought which explained why his father was attacked from behind and had no defensive wounds.
- Henri’s clear memory of seeing where Marli’s leg was not, as he fled after the attacker.
- Hearing Rudi gurgling, this explained how Rudi’s body was moved.
- That he smoked cigarettes to calm himself down, this to explain why he sat there calmly and did not help his family.
In a case, such as this, where there is no real direct evidence, like an eye witness (other than the accused), the courts job is incredibly hard because the evidence needs to be considered as a whole. This task is now even harder because Henri has taken the court into his confidence and he has given evidence, which was fairly consistent.
He may have come across rehearsed at times and he certainly had a superior and cheeky attitude which did not help his likeability, however, the court needs to decide whether he was lying or telling the truth. If the court accepts that he was not being truthful at any point, they will likely reject his version and accept the states circumstantial evidence, whether it is sufficient to convict will be the next step, but it will mostly be accepted.
However, if the court accepts his version, entirely, regardless of the circumstantial evidence, the court needs to acquit him regardless of how strong the states circumstantial evidence is.
Tomorrow we will hear Botha’s closing argument. He looks as if he is thoroughly prepared and is likely to deliver the best closing argument his client could possibly get.
Follow me on twitter @traceyams for live updates from court.