The van Breda trial resumed today with the Defence calling their first witness to the stand – Dr. Antonel Olckers, a forensic expert with extensive experience in the field. She opened her testimony by verifying her credentials – which took close to 45 minutes to get through!
Dr. Olckers was quick to discuss the subject of Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s) and the processes followed when gathering and analysing DNA evidence. The expert confirmed that she had received data for 151 samples, meanwhile, Colonel Otto, the State’s forensic expert and SAPS chief forensic analyst (also present at proceedings today) testified that she had analysed 216. The importance of following SOP’s was stressed by the witness, and the Defence’s case took an interesting turn when Dr. Olckers revealed that when asked to testify on the validity of Col. Otto’s report, she found that SOP’s were not followed – therefore producing invalid results. Advocate Combrink then stepped in, asking the witness to use an analogy for the severity of not following these procedures, to which she drew a comparison to not testing alcohol samples in blood in a timeous manner.
“In science, there is a world of difference between an answer and a scientific answer” – Dr. Antonel Olckers
One of the most interesting developments of the day occurred well after lunch, when Dr. Olckers confirmed that three foreign alleles were found in blood samples, something which Col. Otto failed to pick up in her analysis and overlooked in her report. Two of these foreign alleles were found on the wooden bench in the upstairs passage – meaning that there was DNA evidence present of another person not from the Van Breda family. The witness in the stand was asked by Adv. Combrink if these foreign alleles should have been included in the report, and her reply stated that to not include them would impact the conclusion of the report – leaving out crucial data like this is not acceptable.
On to the subject of blood tests, where Dr. Olckers pointed out that Warrant Officer Nel did not take photos of the results of the Hemastix tests (a test used to analyse blood), therefore results could not be verified. It was put to the court by the forensic expert that these tests could not be used after they had expired, and now there is no proof of their expiration by lack of photos.
The day concluded with Judge Desai questioning the Defence about how much longer Dr. Olcker’s testimony will continue, to which Adv. Combrink replied that it shouldn’t take longer than half an hour to get through tomorrow morning. Availability of the witness was a talking point, with the State needing additional time to prepare for cross-examination. Adv. Botha again stressed the fact that his client is running out of funds.
The testimony of Dr. Olckers continues tomorrow morning. Follow us on Twitter for live updates from the Cape High Court.
Photography Megan Heilig / HM Images