No stutter as Henri takes stand

Axe murders: Articulate Van Breda sticks to account of laughing man in a balaclava who attacked his family

01 November 2017 - 06:59 By By TANYA FARBER
THE FACES OF VAN BREDA: Henri van Breda gives evidence in the Cape Town High Court on Tuesday, describing his family as close-knit.
THE FACES OF VAN BREDA: Henri van Breda gives evidence in the Cape Town High Court on Tuesday, describing his family as close-knit.
Image: Esa Alexander

If Henri van Breda has a stutter, it was missing in action on Tuesday.

A day earlier, the triple axe-murder accused's defence counsel, Piet Botha, painted a picture of a young man with a speech impediment that was "much worse" when he was "under pressure".

Botha had applied for the livestreaming cameras to be turned off during Van Breda's testimony in the Cape Town High Court on the grounds that they were likely to cause his client to "stutter", "mumble" and "hesitate", and this could detract from his testimony.

Judge Siraj Desai denied the application and when Van Breda stepped into the witness stand on the 55th day of his trial - and on the eve of his 23rd birthday on Wednesday - his demeanour and articulation appeared to be the exact opposite of the description given by Botha.

When prosecutor Susan Galloway began her cross-examination in the afternoon, her first salvo was a blunt statement instead of a question: "Mr Van Breda, I did not hear you stutter at all, not even once."

Earlier, Van Breda calmly and confidently described his "close-knit" family, which he said enjoyed the outdoors and had had a "normal" night at their home in Stellenbosch before the bloody killings on January 26 2015.

Giving testimony that adhered to every detail of his plea statement, Van Breda described the angle at which an alleged attacker had held a knife that he said had been used to cut his chest and arms.

He described his brother Rudi's flailing as he "gurgled" on the bed after the attack as being "violent rather than goal-orientated movements".

He denied killing his parents and Rudi, and attempting to kill his sister Marli, and said the police officers who took a statement from him did not explain that it would "become a legal document".

Botha asked him: "Did you attempt to wash away any blood from your hands or body on that morning?"

"No," he replied.

"Why did you not come to the aid of your dad and your mom and your brother?" Botha asked twice. "Would you like to try to explain?"

"I wish I could. I wish I did. But I was too scared," said Van Breda, adding that he regularly sees a therapist.

Under cross-examination, when asked about the family dog, Sasha, he said she had not barked because she was on medication.

He said his own blood, found in the shower at the family home in Goske Street, on the luxury De Zalze estate, was perhaps the result of "shaving in the shower", and that he had "never before seen the axe" that was found at the scene of the murders.

When Galloway asked him questions about security at the estate, he conceded that it was good and the family had always felt "very safe" and had "slept with the doors unlocked".

He could offer no explanation as to how the alleged attacker - a black man in a "homemade" balaclava who had an accomplice somewhere in the house, and who had "laughed" while attacking his father - got into the house under such tight security.

"So what you are saying," said Galloway, "is that these attackers managed to get over or through or around the fence of the fortified estate undetected, before making their way across the estate to your home, which is in the middle - still undetected - and then enter your house where they took nothing, went upstairs, killed your family members, attacked you, and then fled, with nobody hearing them leave?"

Van Breda said "Yes", adding that he had "no comment" as to why no breach of security was evident.