The prosecution continued with the cross-examination of Henri Van Breda today, in the Cape Town High Court, where he stands accused of the murder of three members of his family, and the attempted murder of his sister. He will go into the weekend still under cross-examination as the state has yet to finalise the questions surrounding his version of the events which occurred in the early hours of 28 January 2015.

Life and death fight

Advocate Susan Galloway this morning questioned Henri’s version of the fight he had with the alleged attacker following the vicious attacks on his family.

State pathologists, Doctor Marianne Tiemensma and Professor Johan Dempers, have placed strong evidence before the court regarding the wounds sustained by Henri. The main points being:

  • That the wounds are without a doubt self-inflicted. This conclusion was drawn from the view that there is no movement in the wounds, they were of equal depth and inflicted with precision, of the same origin, they were symmetrical and parallel to one another in a straight line, they also appeared on parts of the body which would be easily accessible to onesself;
  • There were no signs of any defensive wounds although he alleged that he had fought with the attacker when the attacker approached him with the axe and then produced a knife;
  • Tiemensma had witnessed the after effects of over 500 knife fights and Henri’s wounds are not consistent with the fight described;
  • Henri’s body and arms must have been still when the wounds were inflicted, a fight for life and death is not static, he would have pulled away which would have resulted in varying depths and movement in the wounds;
  • The stark comparison between those sustained by the other family members.

The defence has been unable to place this evidence in dispute through their own expert pathologist, which in itself is quite telling.

This morning Galloway tested Henri’s version of how the struggle with the attacker took place by asking him to re-enact the fight in court with investigating officer, Quinton Malan.

Henri slowly went through a demonstration of how the struggle occurred, describing it in detail, he certainly seemed very much aware of the movements of the attacker during that struggle – where he had applied pressure and when.

Notably, when he just took the axe away from the attacker he also pushed him back and in seeing this it seemed to me that, that was the perfect opportunity to bring the axe down on the attacker as he was falling backward. Henri did not do this and despite having the axe in his right hand, being right handed, the attacker then seemed to control the fight with the knife despite Henri having a far more powerful weapon in his right hand.

The demonstration of the struggle was also very static and even then it was impossible to ignore the fact that the knife moving through the two of them would not have left such regular, shallow and equally deep wounds. The flicking movement of the attacker’s wrist surely would have also had more varying depths.

Another aspect of the demonstration which seemed unlikely, which Galloway asked for comment on, was that when Malan motioned forward to stab Henri, his head was in the way of his right shoulder so in order for Henri to cross the axe over to hit Malan’s right shoulder he had to ask Malan to move his head back as it obstructed the axes path to that shoulder. Henri had nothing to add to this observation.

I do not think that this demonstration helped the defence to refute the strength of the evidence that his wounds were self-inflicted, this in my view is the strongest evidence for the state.

Judge Desai weighs in on Henri’s state of mind

Judge Siraj Desai asked Henri if he was not angry at the attacker and Henri responded that he never felt anger at the time, he only felt scared and unsure. Desai enquired further how he could not have felt anger toward the attacker when he had just witnessed this person attacking his father and his brother.

Henri did not have an explanation other than that he was scared and overwhelmed.

This lead to Henri struggling to hold back tears and Desai allowing a short adjournment.

Fighting for the Axe and then throwing it away

Desai intervened when Advocate Galloway questioned Henri about why he decided to throw the axe at the attacker when he had just fought for it, particularly when he had left the knife in the room and was effectively disarming himself once again.

Henri conceded that it was not a wise decision to make and he supported this by saying it was instinctive as he knew he was not a fast runner.

Henri’s fear

Another issue was Henri’s concession that he did not actually see the attacker/s leave the house. He only saw the back door open and that was enough to put him at ease that they had left. He made no attempts to check the rest of the house, put on any lights, etc to make sure there was nobody else there despite being unarmed and alone – having witnessed what he had just witnessed.

He said that he thought the most pertinent thing to do at that point would be to get help and that is when he started googling emergency services and he phoned his girlfriend.

Fall down the stairs

Another interesting detail is that Henri seemed to “tumble” down the stairs, rather than fall down, as he indicated that he would have only rolled once because he landed above the middle landing.

It shows that his fall could not have been very serious. Henri didn’t describe the swelling to his eye as being an injury from the fall. He told the court the injuries he sustained from the fall were the scratches on his back from tiles that were rough and scratched his back.

The cross-examination has become tedious and Henri seemed fine today, he didn’t seem too tired, he was alert and focused and answered questions well. Although his memory is very selective and most often detailed where it assists him and lacking where it doesn’t assist his defence. It is his version and he has taken the court into his confidence by giving his version, exposing it to be tested. These are all factors which the court will consider in determining whether or not to believe his version, which will ultimately lead to the decision to convict or acquit.

We will be back in court on Monday as the state continues their cross-examination.

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