JOHANNESBURG (AP) — A South African judge on Tuesday considered the idea of showing some mercy when he sentences a 23-year-old man convicted of the ax murders of his parents and brother to life imprisonment.

Judge Siraj Desai said he was searching for some "human factor" that diminishes, to some degree, the gruesome nature of the attacks by Henri van Breda, who committed the 2015 murders at the family home in an upscale estate in Stellenbosch, a scenic town in a wine-growing area.

"There must be something, or the only inference is that he acted in total wickedness," said Desai, who appealed to defense lawyer Pieter Botha "to put before me some reason for these attacks."

The grisly murders attracted international attention, including in Australia, where the van Breda family lived for some years.

The judge even asked Botha if he wanted a court adjournment to discuss the matter with van Breda, but the lawyer said his client maintains his innocence and therefore can't express remorse for the crime. The defense also noted in the Western Cape High Court that van Breda was a young man and a first-time offender.

"I cannot take it any further," Botha said.

Desai said van Breda's youth was not a strong factor in any argument for leniency in sentencing, and that his parole chances when he reaches his 40s could be affected by whether he gets more than one life sentence. He scheduled the sentencing for Thursday morning.

Van Breda was also convicted of the attempted murder of his sister at the time of the attacks. She suffered severe head injuries. The court said van Breda inflicted injuries on himself to try to mislead police. He was also convicted of obstructing justice.