Judge revisits scene of Van Breda murders

Judge revisits scene of Van Breda murders.
Judge revisits scene of Van Breda murders.
Image: Esa Alexander/Sunday Times

Judgement statements in complicated murder trials can take several days to read out before a verdict is announced.

But‚ in the much-anticipated judgement in the Henri Van Breda triple axe murder trial‚ a verdict is likely to be announced on Monday.

"I will be reading a summary of the judgement‚" Judge Siraj Desai told a packed courtroom‚ and then asked the accused to sit down.

Judge Desai then read out the crimes for which 23-year-old Henri van Breda went on trial. He stands accused of murdering his parents and brother‚ the attempted murder of his sister and defeating the ends of justice.

He said that Van Breda was the "middle child" and that for the purpose of ease during judgement‚ all family members would be referred to by their first name while the accused himself would not.

Judge Desai then took the courtroom back to the horrific scenes of January 27‚ 2015‚ when Rudi and Martin van Breda were found hacked to death in an upstairs room‚ while Teresa and Marli were found "nearby in the doorway" close to the same room.

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He added that‚ "although Marli did not succumb to her injuries‚ the injuries sustained by her were similar to the injuries sustained by the deceased."

The judge also referred to Van Breda's plea statement in which he claimed that there had been on the premises "unknown intruders - one of whom wore dark clothes‚ gloves and a balaclava-type mask".

He added that according to the plea statement‚ "the accused and attacker were involved in an altercation during which the accused sustained injuries".

It is the state's contention that he is responsible for the crimes and that nobody else could reasonably have committed the crimes‚ added Judge Desai‚ who said the defence had argued that the evidence was purely "circumstantial" and could not lead to the conclusion that nobody else could have committed the crimes.

Desai said that Martin's brother had described them as "a close-knit family with no enemies" and that "nobody bore a grudge against the family".

For more than hour before Desai had arrived‚ the courtroom was like a frenzied circus‚ with scores of professional photographers and journalists with cellphones snapping shots of Van Breda who sat sullen-faced in the dock with shortly cropped hair‚ a trimmed beard‚ and dark circles under his eyes.

The public gallery‚ which at times has been all but empty‚ was packed to capacity with people even standing at the back long before the judge made his entrance.

Monday kicks off the culmination of trial that stretched over a 66-day period and had scores of witnesses trawling through forensic evidence‚ accounts of the day and night in question‚ and Van Breda's visits to the doctor after the horror attacks took place.

All testimonies shed light on what might have happened 12 Goske Street‚ at the De Zalze Estate in Stellenbosch‚ but the only living witness - apart from Van Breda himself - is his sister Marli who survived but was left with retrograde amnesia and could play no part in solving the puzzle.

In the halls of public opinion‚ it has been a slam-dunk case: Van Breda has‚ since the fateful night in 2015‚ been seen as a young man who allegedly savagely attacked his brother as he lay asleep in his bed‚ then attacked his parents‚ and finally‚ his younger sister. He then‚ in the mind of the public‚ took a knife and gave himself a textbook case of "self-inflicted wounds" before calling emergency services and telling them what had happened.

But‚ for Judge Siraj Desai‚ the burden is far heavier than for those chatting at the water cooler: he has been occupied with answering the ultimate question - has the state proven beyond reasonable doubt that the 23-year-old is the one behind the attacks that created a scene so bloody that a first responder had told the court that blood had flowed down the staircase at the luxury home.

The case continues.

It is possibly the most important day of his life but axe murder accused Henri van Breda struggled to stay awake while judgment was being delivered in the Cape Town High Court.

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