WATCH | Judge holds out little hope for Van Breda appeal bid

Henri van Breda’s lawyer‚ Piet Botha‚ and prosecutor Susan Galloway before the start of Tuesday’s application for leave to appeal in the High Court in Cape Town
Henri van Breda’s lawyer‚ Piet Botha‚ and prosecutor Susan Galloway before the start of Tuesday’s application for leave to appeal in the High Court in Cape Town
Image: Anthony Molyneaux

The faint scars on Henri van Breda’s body came back to haunt him in the High Court in Cape Town on Tuesday — as did the moment he went downstairs to arm himself for a murderous attack on his family.

Van Breda applied for leave to appeal against his conviction and sentence‚ and although Judge Siraj Desai said that “out of kindness” he would read the defence’s application before announcing his decision on Monday‚ his perspective was clear: the court has not misdirected itself and was unlikely to grant the application.

Van Breda‚ who is serving his life sentence at Drakenstein prison in Paarl‚ was not in court‚ but his advocate Piet Botha argued he should be allowed to take the case to a higher authority.

Van Breda’s girlfriend‚ Danielle Janse van Rensburg‚ who has protested his innocence throughout‚ sat at the back of the courtroom as photographers surrounded her.

Botha said the evidence against his client was purely circumstantial‚ and the state had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Van Breda had committed murder.

The convictions were for the murders of his parents Martin and Theresa‚ and his brother Rudi‚ at their luxury Stellenbosch home in 2015. Van Breda’s sister‚ Marli‚ survived the attacks after putting up a major fight‚ but has retrograde amnesia.

Judge Siraj Desai laid into Henri van Breda’s defence advocate, Piet Botha, during an application for leave to appeal against his convictions and three life sentences. Van Breda is serving his sentences in Drakenstein prison in the Western Cape. Desai will announce his decision on the application for leave to appeal on Monday August 20 2018.

Botha took the court through several aspects of the circumstantial evidence outlined in his 28-page document‚ and said the three life sentences were “shockingly excessive and inappropriate”.

But Desai told him: “Put simply‚ the evidence fits together like a mosaic ... one rarely gets a case so strong against an accused”. Van Breda’s “self-inflicted wounds” were a key part of that mosaic‚ he said.

On the sentence‚ he said he had given Botha ample opportunity to argue in mitigation of sentence but he had declined to do so‚ saying that an indication of remorse would counteract a plea of innocence.

State prosecutor Susan Galloway said the premeditated nature of the murders was also clear.

“He had to go from upstairs where his family members all lay in bed‚ down to the scullery to get an axe and a knife from the kitchen drawer. He aimed the axe at the heads of the deceased. There can be no other inference made — this was premeditated murder.”

She described Botha’s arguments as “the nit-picking of circumstantial evidence” and said that he “missed the wood for the trees”.

On DNA and blood spatter‚ Botha said insufficient weight had been attached to all the witnesses’ testimonies‚ but Desai replied: “You could ignore the DNA evidence altogether and still come to the same conclusion.”

Botha also said there was no motive that would explain why Van Breda would have wiped out his family.

But‚ said Galloway‚ it was “not all happy families” and the testimony of a neighbour who heard a loud argument made that clear.

Desai agreed that her testimony of a family fight proved that the “climate had been created” for the events that followed.

The judge concluded: “Out of kindness‚ I will read it [the defence’s argument] again.”