No unknown DNA found on crime scene – forensic expert in Van Breda trial

Triple murder accused Henri van Breda. PHOTO: Catherine Rice/ANA

Triple murder accused Henri van Breda. PHOTO: Catherine Rice/ANA

The accused had claimed that a laughing, axe-wielding intruder wearing gloves and a balaclava was behind the attack.

The chief forensic analyst at the police’s forensic laboratory has told the Western Cape High Court that “no unknown DNA was found on the scene” at the Van Breda family home in the luxury de Zalze Estate in Stellenbosch.

Henri van Breda, 22, is currently on trial for allegedly murdering his mother, father and older brother on January 27, 2015. His sister Marli, who was 16 years old at the time, survived the attack.

Van Breda has claimed that a laughing, axe-wielding intruder, wearing gloves, a balaclava and dark clothing, was behind the brutal attack.

But on Monday, DNA expert Lieutenant-Colonel Sharlene Otto said no “unknown DNA” had been found in the 216 samples her laboratory analysed.

She told the court that “every touch leaves a trace” in accordance with the “locard principle”.

Otto said nail scrapings taken from Henri’s left hand contained the mixed DNA of himself, his mother Teresa and his brother Rudi.

A blood sample taken from the bottom of the axe handle also had a “mixture result”. Otto said Henri’s DNA could be read into the mixture, as well as the DNA of others, but there was not enough to read a full profile.

A swab of blood from the head of the axe again showed a mixture result of both male and female DNA belonging to Teresa and Rudi.

Otto testified that blood found on the corner of the shower floor was also a mixture of DNA profiles – Rudi’s, Teresa’s and Henri’s.

The handle of a knife contained touch DNA that belonged to Rudi.

The lieutenant-colonel said fingernail swabbing of the father Martin’s hand also showed a mixture profile, but the only full profile that could be extracted was of Rudi’s DNA.

She said they did not usually analyse over 200 samples, but in this case there must have been “many bloodstains”.

“We did not struggle to get DNA. I suspect there must have been lots of blood. We didn’t struggle to get optimal DNA results. None of my DNA results are surprising. In all the results, we were able to obtain different variations on the same theme. That in itself is normal and to be expected”.

Otto told the court that the blood on the bottom of the axe handle contained Henri’s DNA. “We  could not identify anyone else other than Henri in this specific sample”.

On Monday morning, courtroom 1 was buzzing as media outlets set up video cameras as the trial against Van Breda resumed after an almost two-month break.

Judge Siraj Desai earlier this year said he did not object to the filming of court proceedings after Media24 brought an application to be allowed to livestream the case. Both the state and the defence were opposed to livestreaming, however, and approached the Supreme Court of Appeal.

The SCA set aside Desai’s initial order and referred it back to him, giving him a guideline or set of principles to refer to.

Essentially, it ruled that the default position must be that media must be allowed to stream, unless there is an objection. Desai made an order on August 3 that media be allowed to livestream court proceedings, unless there was an objection from a particular witness, the defence or the prosecution.

The prosecution objected to the livestreaming of Otto’s testimony as she testified about the standard operating procedures at the police’s forensic laboratory.

Senior state prosecutor Susan Galloway said these needed to remain confidential. Judge Desai ordered the cameras to stop recording during her testimony.

Otto began by explaining to the court what DNA is: “DNA is the molecule of life”.

“It governs every single characteristic you have as human beings. For a specific person the DNA is the same from the hair roots to the toe nails. We  have our DNA profile from the day of conception and it stays the same until the day we die.”


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