When will the curtain fall on the Van Breda tragedy?

24 August 2017 - 09:18 By Tanya Farber

Henri van Breda has been the main character in a theatrical courtroom drama that has now played out for some 35 days.

With a tiny silver aeroplane on his lapel‚ he has sat silently in the dock – constantly twirling his ring like a fidget spinner – listening to others stretching and shrinking the details of that bloody night in January 2015.

That was the night his parents and brother were brutally hacked to death with an axe and his sister left for dead but miraculously survived.

Now‚ the pieces of the puzzle have almost come together – for the state‚ anyway.

There is just one piece missing‚ but it’s a crucial one.

Captain Marius Joubert‚ a blood spatter expert from SAPS‚ will testify on September 11 after calling in sick these past two weeks.

The trial in the Western Cape High Court has seen some intriguing highlights‚ with ordinary folk‚ family‚ friends‚ experts‚ security personnel‚ paramedics‚ and top-notch scientists all having their say.

There has also been police footage – so disturbing that members of the public were asked to leave the gallery – of what they found inside 12 Goske Street at the De Zalze estate in Stellenbosch on the morning of the murders.

Harrowing imagery of the bloodied staircase and the bodies still lying where they had died cast a silent pall over the courtroom.

Almost as chilling was the recording of the call Henri placed to emergency services.

Responder Janine Philander said he was “cool as a cucumber” and lacking a sense of desperation‚ so much so that she was convinced it was a prank call.

The spectre of murder and its aftermath was first described by Christiaan Koegelenberg‚ the first responding paramedic.

He described how blood had flowed down the staircase “like a waterfall” when the severely injured Marli was moved from where she lay near her mother.

His testimony drew the line of horror between a lively family household and the tragedy that followed.

Later‚ the testimonies of murder most foul came thick and fast‚ with perhaps the most upsetting from Dr Daphne Anthony‚ the forensic pathologist who had the grim task of doing the autopsies.

Her report froze a few moments in time – from brother Rudi “raising his hand in attempt to fend off” his attacker‚ to mother Teresa “falling on her face” as she tried to escape‚ to father Martin “being unaware of his attacker who came up from behind”.

In sharp contrast to these gruesome injuries mapped on their bodies‚ were the superficial wounds of the accused.

Dr Marianne Tiemensma‚ the forensic pathologist asked to analyse them‚ concluded they were “most likely self-inflicted”. They were “superficial‚ parallel‚ uniform‚ and in reachable areas”. They were also “symmetrical” and showed “no movement” when they happened.

Later came chief DNA analyst‚ Lieutenant Colonel Sharlene Otto: DNA from Henri’s mother Teresa and brother Rudi were found on scrapings of his finger nails and on blood stains on his shorts.

It was also revealed that “no unknown DNA was found on the crime scene”.

Like Tiemensma before her‚ Otto faced the wrath of the defence but stood her ground on each occasion.

Still‚ the public has been asking about Marli‚ wondering if she would finally testify. And the answer is no.

So‚ with three family members dead‚ one with amnesia‚ and one in the dock‚ neighbour Stephanie Op’t Hof’s testimony was the only one approximating an eye witness account‚ or at best‚ an ear witness account. At around 10pm that fateful night‚ she heard “very loud male voices” that sounded like a fight.

Defence counsel Matthys Combrink insisted it was the soundtrack of Star Trek 2 on the family’s new sound system. But she wouldn’t give an inch.

Another key witness was Precious Myongane‚ a domestic worker who had cleaned the house in the hours leading up to the murders.

She gave details of how she had regularly seen the same axe found on the crime scene near the ironing board in the scullery.

She also took the court through poignant detail into an “ordinary” household – Rudi lying under a blanket in the family lounge‚ Sasha the dog walking around freely …

But just how ordinary a household was it?

Andre van Breda‚ Martin’s brother‚ painted a fine-brushed picture of a happy family. He described his late brother as a dedicated father and astute businessman “with no enemies to speak of”.

However‚ Marli’s ex-boyfriend‚ James Read-Jahn‚ painted a different picture.

With ruddy cheeks and blonde surfer-boy hair‚ he cringed in the stand when questioned about a message sent to Marli from his phone – a message that might have landed him in the dock instead.

Outraged by an ugly family fight during which Marli had been crushed by her father’s comments on her weight gain‚ he had written to her: “I know I told you everything I always feel or am doing‚ and right now‚ I feel like I want to murder the people that are around you …”

But the evidence showed he was home that night.

Now‚ it is a waiting game.

After police expert Joubert‚ the defence will present their case‚ but according to his counsel‚ Henri is fast running out of funds.

Also‚ Judge Siraj Desai has other cases on his diary‚ and at some point soon‚ the courtroom drama will have to come to an end.

Will the defence create reasonable doubt‚ or will the young man with dark circles around his eyes find himself behind the bars of a South African prison?