Judgment day for Henri van Breda: Will his testimony help or hinder him?
It lasted 66 days‚ had tongues wagging‚ and played out like a courtroom TV drama with flashbacks to three family members lying hacked to death with an axe on the first floor of their luxury home.
Now‚ the judgment of triple-murder accused Henri van Breda will begin in the High Court in Cape Town on Monday. This comes after a month-long postponement due to a death in the family of Judge Siraj Desai.
Van Breda stands accused of murdering his father Martin‚ mother Teresa‚ and brother Rudi‚ at their luxury estate home near Stellenbosch in January 2015. He also stands accused of attempting to murder his younger sister‚ Marli‚ and of defeating the ends of justice.
As tension mounts ahead of the judgment‚ Van Breda might be wondering if a decision he made several months ago could cost him his freedom.
Experts in the Henri van Breda case give us their predictions in the Henri van Breda judgment as well as tell us why this case has captivated South Africans.
Van Breda’s defence team had advised against him testifying‚ but with a definite air of confidence‚ he had stepped into the witness box late last year‚ producing what seemed a slick and carefully crafted narrative and one which‚ he hoped‚ Judge Desai would find believable.
He was spotted leaving Lanseria Airport in Johannesburg last week (as he headed back to Cape Town for the judgment) in a woollen beanie‚ a Pink Floyd t-shirt‚ and a face of hair - quite the opposite of the coiffed-hair-and-tailored-suit-man who stepped into the witness box several months ago.
In that moment‚ he defied the advice that lawyers have been giving their clients for more years than anyone could dare to count: Do not testify in your own trial.
Kelly Phelps‚ a University of Cape Town senior law lecturer explained: “A skilled cross-examiner can very easily unnerve an accused person‚ and often the emotion of the occasion or personality traits will lead to a negative performance irrespective of guilt or innocence.”
But Van Breda‚ with an answer for every question‚ was the picture of smoothness (despite earlier claims by his counsel that he suffers from a stutter).
If Judge Desai finds him innocent‚ any obsessed follower of this trial might spend many a moment remembering Van Breda’s enactment in court - when a replica of a wooden axe was held high above his shoulder before it bore down on the imagined body of his brother Rudi.
If he is found innocent‚ does it mean that the laughing attacker in a balaclava - as portrayed by Van Breda in court - was real after all?
It will simply mean that Desai did not deem the State to have proven beyond reasonable doubt that Van Breda carried out the gruesome attacks - and then the truth of that night will never be known.
This will likely enhance the frustration of those who have been all about Marli‚ constantly discussing with anyone who will listen if Marli might recover from her retrograde amnesia.
If Marli could remember anything‚ she would have become the key witness.
According to forensic experts who testified during the lengthy trial‚ she put up major resistance to her attacker‚ and according to state prosecutor Susan Galloway‚ she “made it very clear” that she did not want to take the stand.
And so‚ her silence has persisted.
She had clung to life for several hours‚ bleeding profusely at the top of the staircase at the luxury estate‚ before help arrived.
This was after Van Breda had finally put in a call to emergency services - a call which had lasted several minutes and which‚ during playback in court‚ had everyone commenting on how unfazed he seemed by the life-shattering events around him.
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In his own version of events‚ there are almost three hours missing from the timeline before he put in the call for help.
The State highlighted this as a time during which he allegedly tampered with evidence‚ contemplated his next move‚ and thereafter sat smoking at the kitchen table while waiting for the ambulances to arrive.
His defence counsel‚ Piet Botha‚ said he was in a state of confusion after an alleged seizure that resulted from his juvenile myoclonic epilepsy - a condition with which he was diagnosed late last year‚ in the twilight of the trial and which the State had called “fortuitous”.
Over the 66 days of the trial‚ the public gallery sometimes heaved with humanity and at other times was just about empty‚ but with the judgment finally on the cards‚ the public spectacle of justice being served is likely to draw the masses.
It is not yet known how long the judgment statement will take and when the final verdict will be announced.