Henri van Breda, who stands accused of axing his parents and brother to death, spent the weekend in hospital.
This came to light in the High Court in Cape Town on Monday when Van Breda’s counsel Piet Botha said his client had had a seizure and been diagnosed with a medical condition.
“Last week my client experienced a seizure and on medical advice was admitted to Constantiaberg Mediclinic on Friday,” said Botha.
Van Breda only came out of hospital at 7pm on Sunday night, after undergoing several tests.
He was diagnosed with Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy (the most common form of generalised epilepsy), and it came to light that he has before suffered from petit mal seizures.
According to the Epilepsy Foundation’s website, these seizures, also known as “absence seizures” can cause “lapses in awareness, sometimes with staring” and that they typically “begin and end abruptly”, lasting “only a few seconds”.
Botha now wishes to call Dr James Butler, the neurologist, who he says will shed light on the two hours and forty minutes when Van Breda claimed he was out cold.
This is something the state has contested, claiming it was a ruse to paper over the cracks in Van Breda’s story of a man in a balaclava breaking in and brutally attacking the family.
In particular, the state prosecutor Susan Galloway said last week it was strange that Van Breda “had not mentioned a thing to the doctor who had seem him on the day of the murders” about the fact that he had allegedly passed out for three hours.
According to the Epilepsy Foundation, JME seizures typically start between ages five and 16, and are then followed by “myoclonic jerks” about one to nine years later.
Van Breda told his counsel to “please” tell Judge Siraj Desai that he was “not hospitalized because he was sickly but because he had to have tests done”.
Although the nature of the tests were not detailed in court, the Foundation says, “EEG (electroecephalogram – commonly known as a brain scan) is the most important diagnostic test” to determine the condition.
According to Desai, the defence wanting to call Dr Butler posed a “potential ethical issue” as the state had previously consulted with him earlier in the trial but had “elected not to call him”.
Botha then added that if the defence was stopped from calling Butler to the stand, then he would like the court to call him instead.
This came as a curve ball: it was a psychologist who was supposed to take the stand for the defence on Monday, and testify on whether or not it was possible that somebody might have responded in the way Van Breda did when his family was allegedly attacked.
Last week, the fact that he didn’t come to the aid of his family members during the alleged was highlighted, as was the fact that he sat in the kitchen smoking while waiting for paramedics – a time duirng which he claims two family members were fighting for their lives upstairs.
According to Botha, the psychologist was going to speak to the fact that there are different types of reactions to situations of this nature.
However, in light of the new medical diagnosis and the “potentially ethical” dilemma of Butler possibly testifying, the psychologist might have to alter her report.
The case continues on Tuesday. BY TANYA FARBER/TimesLive