16 October 2017

South Africa: Van Breda Expert Witness Never Worked in Forensic Lab - State

Photo: Facebook
A photo posted to Facebook of Henri Van Breda shortly after the murder of his parents at their De Zalze estate (file photo).

The expert DNA witness hired by Henri Van Breda's defence team has never worked in a forensic laboratory, the Western Cape High Court heard on Monday.

Dr Antonel Olckers had a tough time on the stand on her first day of cross-examination, as prosecutor Susan Galloway dug into her credentials, pointing out that most of her expertise was in academia and administration.

During cross-examination, Olckers conceded that she had not written an independent report on the DNA evidence in the Van Breda murders, much to Judge Siraj Desai's surprise.

It "would have been helpful" if she had drafted her report "before your mind was clouded", Desai told her, to which the defence objected.

Olckers said her report was a summary, as her scope had narrowed and "resources had dwindled".

"I reported on what I was given time to look at," she testified.

Olckers, who was mandated by the defence to assess the scientific validity of the SAPS reports, had sat in during chief forensic analyst Lieutenant Colonel Sharlene Otto's testimony, passing notes and whispering to the defence advocate during cross-examination, Galloway recalled.

She confirmed she had submitted her report to the defence after Otto had testified and had been aware of the analyst's testimony when she redrafted her report.

Judge left flabbergasted

There were eight weeks between Otto's testimony and Olckers' turn on the stand.

Olckers also testified that she disagreed with Otto that laboratory accreditation was "nice to have", insisting that accreditation was essential, as it showed minimum standards were in place and met.

The SAPS laboratories are not accredited, but this is not a legal requirement.

Desai questioned how essential accreditation was, asking if SAPS' lack thereof meant that all police laboratory results were not scientifically valid.

Olckers countered that, if the standard operating procedures were followed, it would be.

Galloway, however, pointed out that, according to the SAPS Act, the only requirement was that DNA analysis must be performed in accordance with quality management systems, which Otto said had been done.

Olckers appeared unaware of this, which left Desai flabbergasted.

"You're an expert in the field," he told her.

Concern over judge's 'demeanour'

Olckers said she was aware of the Act, but didn't know that International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) guidelines were in the regulations.

She also confirmed that she had never done a proficiency test.

Van Breda, 22, pleaded not guilty to axing his parents and brother to death, seriously injuring his sister Marli, and defeating the ends of justice.

He alleged that an intruder wearing a balaclava, gloves and dark clothes was behind the attack, and that he had heard other voices of people speaking Afrikaans in their home in the De Zalze Estate in Stellenbosch in January 2015.

Van Breda claimed that, after a fight with the axe-wielding intruder who was also armed with a knife, the man had escaped.

Van Breda, through Advocate Pieter Botha, on Monday raised his concern over Desai's "demeanour" and the manner in which he was posing questions to Olckers, saying the judge was displaying irritation with the witness.

Desai asked Botha if he was asking for his recusal, to which Botha responded that the defence just wanted it to be placed on record.

The case resumes on Tuesday.


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