Evidence van Breda had epileptic seizure on night of axe murders

27 November 2017 - 17:11 By Tanya Farber
Henri van Breda.
Henri van Breda.
Image: Anthony Molyneaux

Dr James Butler‚ a neurologist who did tests on Henri van Breda‚ testified for the defence in the High Court in Cape Town on Monday‚ saying that Van Breda has a form of epilepsy which might explain the 'missing' two hours and forty minutes in his version of events.

Van Breda stands accused of axing his parents and brother to death‚ and leaving his sister for dead at their luxury home on the De Zalze estate in Stellenbosch.

The state had earlier argued that the nearly three hours during which Van Breda claims he was unconscious at the bottom of the stairs was a convenient explanation for a timeline that didn't add up.

Van Breda's defence counsel‚ Piet Botha‚ said his client had had a fit as the defence’s evidence in chief was about to come to an end‚ and had just been diagnosed with juvenile myoclonic epilepsy.

Butler testified on Monday that Van Breda could have had a seizure for half an hour and then experienced two hours and ten minutes of amnesia thereafter.

Butler said: "It is possible he wasn’t right in the head (nie reg in die kop) if he had had a seizure."

He began his testimony‚ however‚ by making sure he wasn't simply a hired gun for the defence and that he had also consulted with the state.

"I made it very clear to both sides I do not wish to receive any remuneration for my part in this process other than being paid for the medical consultation of Mr Van Breda‚" he said.

The issue came up previously that Van Breda had been malingering - feigning medical illness with ulterior motives.

It came to light that since early in 2015‚ Van Breda has been taking anti-depressants to cope with both depression and anxiety.

Butler said that on Wednesday November 8‚ Van Breda's girlfriend - who also took the rap when the two were arrested for being in possession of marijuana last year - said that the two were sitting on a bed discussing the trial. Van Breda was allegedly "very stressed".

He then leaned forward and looked as if he was "about to cough" but instead fell backwards whereupon his "eyes rolled back and his arms were shaking".

Without any warning‚ he briefly lost his memory.

His face was allegedly "red" and "his jaw was clenched".

After tests were carried out on Van Breda over that weekend‚ Butler had diagnosed him "unequivocally" with juvenile myoclonic epilepsy.

Butler said that Van Breda had told him how he began descending the stairs on the fateful night on which his family was attacked.

"He said he had looked up from his phone while climbing the stairs and remembers seeing Marli at the top of the stairs and he remembered seeing her right arm and leg moving‚ and quite a bit of blood on her head‚" said Butler.

After the alleged amnesia that lasted almost three hours‚ he was "initially very disorientated".

Botha then asked Butler to describe how Van Breda appeared in the photograph that showed him sitting in the ambulance on the early hours of the morning of the attack.

"He looked dulled‚" said Butler‚ "just like someone recovering from a seizure".

Butler also said that the fact that he had wet his pants corroborated his diagnosis of a seizure.

Judge Siraj Desai‚ however‚ pointed out that his facial expression and him wetting his pants were also very easily explained by the events of that night‚ whether the defence's or the state's version of what happened was the true one.

"There is compelling evidence that he had an epileptic seizure on the night of the murder of his parents and brother.”

He also "has a little cyst on the brain" but it is "inconsequential"‚ said Butler.

After his five-hour testimony‚ he said on the record that other explanations of amnesia could be eliminated‚ but that his medical diagnosis plus "the abruptness of the onset of amnesia" meant that "the only culprit left standing was epilepsy".

But‚ said Judge Desai‚ "that is only if we accept that there was in fact amnesia in the first place".

The case continues. - TimesLIVE