Van Breda trial: 'Family was killed with definite intent'
Defence lawyer Piet Botha has an answer to every question from Judge Siraj Desai
What’s in a phrase? It depends who you ask.
Advocate Piet Botha, appearing for Henri van Breda in the High Court in Cape Town on Wednesday, said the 23-year-old triple murder accused experienced “massive urinary incontinence”.
This was proof that his client had had a seizure, he said in his closing argument, which would explain the missing two hours and 40 minutes between the murder of Van Breda’s three family members in January 2015 and his call to emergency services.
But Judge Siraj Desai, who has admitted to being exasperated by the axe murder case after 66 court days, said: “You could also just say he wet his pants.”
The prosecution has argued that a seizure was not the only possible explanation for the pants-wetting – or “massive urinary incontinence”.
Botha also pointed out that 38 shoe prints were identified on the scene of the crime, in the Van Breda family home at De Zalze in Stellenbosch, but they “were not the only ones there”.Of the 38, he said, three matched shoes handed in as evidence and had been worn by emergency and police personnel on the scene of the crime.
Of the remaining 35, only 33 were also a possible match, and on this basis the state could not definitively prove that “nobody else’s shoe prints were on the scene”.
The lack of DNA from an intruder could be explained away by the balaclava and gloves the alleged assailant could have been wearing, while Van Breda’s “calm” demeanour on the phone to emergency services could be explained by his post-seizure state.
Botha added Van Breda’s “dull appearance” in a photograph taken in an ambulance on the day of the murders was also on account of his post-seizure state, as was his failure to rush to neighbours for help.
But, countered Desai, “on the client’s own evidence, he spoke in a measured manner on the phone to control his stutter - not because he was in a confused state from a seizure”.
Botha said this was because he only learnt later that he had had a seizure, after neurologist James Butler had diagnosed him with epilepsy.
At the ready for all questions from Desai, Botha also blamed the ubiquity of gratuitous violence in South Africa for the brutality of the attacks.Desai described the murder of Van Breda’s parents Martin and Teresa and brother Rudi, and the attempted murder of sister Marli, as the result of a “frenzy” and asked why a random assailant would behave like that.
“It’s almost as if the person really wanted to attack them out of anger rather than fortuitously killing people during a botched robbery. The person that killed them did so with definite intent,” he said.
Botha disagreed, saying: “Crimes in our country, including house invasions, go hand in hand with gratuitous violence.”
This was proven by recent fatal stabbings in Kalk Bay and Stellenbosch. “It is the country we are living in,” said Botha, adding that if one asked why an outsider would wipe out the Van Bredas in such a brutal manner, one should also ask why Henri would do so.
Botha also disagreed with Desai’s comment earlier in the week that it seemed as if the assailant knew the layout of the Van Breda family home.
He said the bottom part of the house was open-plan, and it would take someone entering through the kitchen only a few seconds to see all the downstairs areas.
“There is nothing about my client’s version that necessitates the assailant having to know the layout of house,” he said.Botha described a scenario of thieves coming onto the estate looking for a house with “easy access”.
He added: “Maybe one stays downstairs looking in cupboards and drawers while the other goes upstairs. The first bedroom he comes across is at the top of the stairs on the left.
“There he finds Rudi sleeping. Rudi wakes up so he attacks him. Henri then starts calling for help, Martin comes in, and the attacker kills Martin.”
But Desai responded: “How likely is it that nobody makes a noise during this? Nobody shouts for help? The attackers don’t call to each other? They don’t take anything? And then they commit an unprecedented mass murder on three people, and attempt to kill a fourth?”
The case was postponed to April 23, when judgment will be delivered.