AN encrypted iPhone recovered from the bloody bathroom of Olympic hero Oscar Pistorius is key to the murder investigation. With police yesterday given three months to wrap up their investigation into the murder of supermodel Reeva Steenkamp, formerly of Port Elizabeth, time is now of the essence.
As Pistorius, clean- shaven and dressed in a dark suit and light blue shirt, made a whirlwind appearance before acting Pretoria chief magistrate Daniel Thulare, investigators a few blocks away were once again attempting to sift through volumes of encrypted information contained on the cellphone.
The phone was among four seized from Pistorius’s luxury Silver Lakes home on Valentine’s Day, hours after he killed the 29-year-old former St Dominic’s Priory pupil and NMMU law graduate.
He claims the shooting was a tragic mistake.
At the February bail hearing, his lawyers said Pistorius was acting in self-defence against what he thought was an intruder. Prosecutors accused him of premeditated murder for firing four times into the door, hitting Steenkamp in the head, hip and arm.
Bail was set in February at R1-million.
While both police and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) insist investigations are progressing well, officers assigned to the team are said to be battling.
“Key to this investigation are the cellphones. Most of the data has been downloaded from the phones, bar one which is either completely or at least partially encrypted,” one policeman said.
The cellphone in question is believed to belong to Steenkamp, who apparently took it with her to the toilet, where she locked herself inside.
With Steenkamp’s mother, June, revealing her daughter and Pistorius had been involved in several fights shortly before her death and that Reeva was frightened of the Blade Runner, police are questioning why someone going to the bathroom at 3am would take a cellphone with them.
“There are serious concerns around when the phone and its data were encrypted and why. It could have happened by accident, but there could be another motive,” the policeman said.
The battle to decipher the data comes as investigators seem set to call on independent data experts for assistance.
“The information on the phone, the toilet door and the ballistics reports are key to this case,” the policeman said.
Police spokesman Brigadier Phuti Setati said the investigation was going well.
“We are making progress … we are making sure justice will be served by, as far as possible, conducting a thorough investigation.”
Setati declined to comment on the investigations around the encrypted cellphone.
“Whatever we are doing cannot be discussed. Whatever evidence we collect will be presented at the right time at the right place, in court. We are playing our cards close to our chest to preserve the integrity of the investigation.”
Asked about outside experts being drawn into the investigation, Setati said: “We have drawn experts from different police units. I will not comment on whether outside help is being sought.”
The battles around deciphering the cellphone, which saw NPA spokesman Medupe Simasiku admitting investigations were at a “sensitive” stage, came after the magistrate chastised the media.
Thulare, glaring at the public gallery packed with journalists, slammed the leaking of information pertaining to the case to journalists.
“We need to preserve the sanctity of the justice system,” he said. “I am concerned by the activities pertaining to the administration of justice.
“Unless we are careful, there is a grave risk of scandalous actions being caused by reporting around this case.”
He ordered prosecutors to investigate certain leaks.
Thulare’s criticism comes after Sky TV published photographs of the crime scene.
“Like every literate South African, I read … This appears to be a trial by media houses, which can amount to contempt of court,” he said.
Pistorius, 26, remained composed throughout the 10- minute hearing at the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court when he made his first formal public appearance since his release on bail in February.
His only words in court were “Yes, Your Honour” when asked if he understood the bail conditions.
Pistorius agreed to abide by his previous bail conditions, and when court adjourned, he kissed his brother Carl, sister Aimee and uncle Arnold.
Reporters and photographers surged after him as bodyguards and at least 10 policemen led him out of the court.
He was whisked away in a silver Fortuner SUV, which had been idling on the busy street adjacent to the court entrance.
Paralympic gold medallist Samkelo Radebe told Reuters TV: “We still stand behind him you know. We still want to see him come back and run and do what he’s well known for – and that’s being a hero and changing people’s lives.”
The trial was postponed to August 19 – which would have been Steenkamp’s 30th birthday. – Additional reporting by Sapa, Reuters