Van Breda trial:‘Smoking while waiting for his family to die’
Prosecutor presents closing arguments in Henri van Breda triple murder trial
“One can’t help thinking he sat at the kitchen counter smoking the three cigarettes waiting for his family members to die before calling emergency services.”
This image, described by prosecutor Susan Galloway in the Henri van Breda murder trial, came out in her closing argument in the High Court in Cape Town on Monday.
She was looking at the time lapse of almost three hours that passed between the bloody attacks and the accused phoning emergency services for help.
It is common cause that during that time lapse, he smoked in the kitchen – but the defence claims he was in a confused stated as he had had a seizure.
She also said several of the expert witnesses had “based their testimonies on hearsay, speculation and theoretical possibilities”.Van Breda stands accused of murdering his parents and brother with an axe and leaving his sister for dead at their luxury estate home at De Zalze in Stellenbosch in January 2015.
After a two-month hiatus, the accused appeared in court on Monday sporting a bald head – neatly matching those of his defence counsel Piet Botha and Matthys Combrink – which he told Times Select was to “save water during the drought”.
At the 11th hour in the trial last year, neurologist Dr James Butler testified that the accused had just been diagnosed with a form of epilepsy.
But, argued Galloway, Butler’s backdated diagnosis could “very easily be incorrect”.The only account of his medical history was given by the accused himself, and the involuntary wetting of his underpants – played up by Butler as proof of a seizure – could be a result of several other factors under the circumstances.
His behaviour after the alleged seizure was “inconsistent” with such a seizure, she said.
She said Butler had made much of the fact that someone in a confused state after a seizure would not be able to “strategise” or “think reasonably”.
And yet, argued Galloway, he was indeed able to do both: he gave “detailed explanations” for all the decisions he made on that fateful night, and his explanations for a missing two hours and 40 minutes kept changing throughout the trial until the “fortuitous” diagnosis of epilepsy came in right at the end.Earlier in the day, Galloway led the court through Van Breda’s calm and lengthy phone call to emergency services in the early hours of January 27 2015 after the attacks.
She said that his lack of emotion on the phone was “not consistent with the nature of the crime” and was so alarming that the operator “thought it was a prank call”.
She said that when emergency helpers arrived, Van Breda “was calm enough to direct them up the stairs and was not unfocused and distraught” in the way someone would be if they were in a confused state after a seizure.
He knew “exactly what was going on”, she said.
Also, he had made no attempt to “help or comfort” his family members, despite claiming that at that point both his siblings (Rudi, who died, and Marli, who survived) were still alive.She said the accused’s descriptions of his brother Rudi “gurgling” on the bed were added as an afterthought to try prove that Rudi was able to move so that the accused could deny he had dragged his brother across the floor.
Also, instead of calling emergency services first, he had tried to get hold of “his 16-year-old girlfriend who was living in a hostel at the time” even though she could be of no assistance in a life-or-death situation.
Galloway also pointed to the fact there was no indication whatsoever of an outsider to the family “having a motive” to wipe them out, or of any indication that they had wanted to remove “valuables” from the home.
Galloway led the court through the state’s evidence that Van Breda’s wounds – parallel, uniform, superficial and in reachable areas of his body – were self-inflicted, and said he had “more than sufficient time” to tamper with the crime scene after the bloody murders had been carried out.She also rebuked several defence witnesses for not being “objective” and said they simply tried to poke holes in the state’s case without providing any credible evidence of their own to the contrary.
She also scathingly accused Van Breda of having a “selective memory” – recalling detail where it suited him, retrofitting his story in light of what had already passed in court, and simply answering “I don’t remember” or “I was scared” when the providing of any detail might work against him.
She also accused him of misleading the police by tampering with evidence, and raised the issue of Sasha the dog leaving no bloody footprints in the house after the murders.
On Tuesday the defence will present its closing arguments.