Van Breda murder trial – what we know so far

Murder accused Henri van Breda in court
File picture: Esa Alexander

On the morning of January 27‚ 2015‚ news broke of a gruesome triple axe murder at one of the country’s most opulent security estates near Stellenbosch in the Western Cape. It would take more than two years for the case to come to court‚ with Henri van Breda‚ a family member‚ charged with the murders. Fifteen days later‚ this is what we know so far:

Day one: After much public speculation‚ Van Breda’s not guilty plea statement is read out by his defence counsel‚ Piet Botha. It details a scene of a man in a balaclava intruding on the family home and laughing while axing his parents and brother to death. It also describes a scuffle between Van Breda and the alleged intruder‚ after which‚ he claims‚ he lay unconscious at the bottom of the stairs.

Day two: The court moves to 12 Goske Street‚ De Zalze Wine Estate‚ Stellenbosch‚ where the horrific murders had taken place. Lorinda van Niekerk‚ for the defence‚ demonstrates how easy it is to climb over a small black gate adjacent to the family home. It later emerges that a few droplets of blood on an outside wall could have come from the force of the blows delivered in the upstairs rooms.

Day three to day seven: The security at the estate itself comes under the spotlight‚ with the state emphasising the high-tech system used to keep intruders out‚ and the defence pointing out the shortcomings of the system. Security personnel testify on the electric fence‚ the cameras‚ the booms‚ and the various checks that are done round the clock. The defence points out human error and possible loopholes.

Day eight: Christiaan Koegelenberg‚ a highly experienced paramedic‚ describes the scene of horror that awaited him when he got to 12 Goske Street on the morning of the murders. He describes how his colleague saw to the deceased bodies of dad Martin and brother Rudi van Breda‚ while he was tasked with helping the survivor Marli. He described how “blood flowed down the staircase like a waterfall” when he moved the injured teenager away from the deceased body of her mom.

Day nine: Martin van Breda’s brother Andre describes him as an astute businessman who had no enemies‚ and paints a picture of a happy and close-knit family. After him‚ domestic worker Precious Munyongani (with a translator) describes how she always saw an axe – just like the one used in the murders – behind the ironing board in the scullery. Straight after her‚ Van Breda’s girlfriend at the time of the murders‚ Bianca van der Westhuizen‚ says her phone was on aeroplane mode when Van Breda tried to call her in the wee hours of 27 January 2015. She says he “admired” his older brother but was “closer” to Marli.

Day ten: Marli’s boyfriend at the time‚ James Reade-Jahn‚ testifies. He speaks of family conflicts that had left Marli devastated – including one about her weight gain. He also turns bright red as he reads out a text he sent to Marli a few days before the murders when he was angry about how the family (particularly her father whom he described as “quite controlling”) had upset her: “I feel like I want to murder the people that are around you at the moment and I am inches away from losing it with them and breaking down completely but I am being strong to help you …” Later‚ police captain Nicholas Steyn testifies‚ describing how evidence found at the scene of the murders did not bear resemblance to the modus operandi of a balaclava gang that had been operating in the Stellenbosch area at the time.

Day eleven: Forensic analyst Colonel Stewart testifies on hair found at the scene of the murders‚ but he is torn down by the defence‚ who prove that the hairs Marli was clutching could not possibly have been those of her brother Henri and were far more likely her own.

Day twelve: After Stewart‚ neighbour Stephanie Op’t Hof testifies‚ describing how she heard loud male voices arguing aggressively from around 10pm to midnight on the night of the murders. The defence argues that she was possibly hearing the soundtrack of the Star Trek 2 movie‚ but she stands her ground‚ insisting it was men having a huge fight.

Day thirteen: The emergency call centre operator who took the call from Van Breda on the morning of the murders testifies‚ saying that he was so “calm” and “cool as a cucumber” and lacking a sense of urgency or desperation‚ that she was convinced it was a prank call. She said one in seven of their calls are from pranksters‚ and his manner on the phone resembled those one in seven calls.

Day fourteen: Forensic pathologist Dr Marianne Tiemensma testifies. She notes that scratches and cuts on Van Breda’s body were most likely “self-inflicted” as they were superficial‚ parallel and on reachable parts of his body. She says some of his other injuries were likely not self-inflicted‚ such as bruises on his face and leg. The defence objects that their own pathologist is not there on the same day.

Day fifteen: Dr Michelle van Zyl‚ a medical doctor who specialises in emergency medicine‚ describes two visits made by Van Breda to her rooms at the Vergelegen Mediclinic. She confirms that his wounds were “superficial” and required no stitching. Instead she just put “clips” on them. A second visit was then made at the request of police. This time‚ Van Breda was far less friendly and was more formal in his manner towards her.

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