Expert can’t fix sequence of shots, bashing

An expert witness in Oscar Pistorius’s murder trial was uncertain on Thursday (13/03/2014) about the sequence in which bullets and a cricket bat hit the door through which he shot his girlfriend.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel asked police forensic expert Johannes Vermeulen whether he could conclude that all four bullet holes appeared in the door before the dents made by the bat.

The question was aimed at testing the veracity of Pistorius’s version of events, in which he fired four shots into the door then, after realising that Steenkamp was not asleep in bed, fetched a cricket bat to break down the door.

Vermeulen responded that he could not prove that this was indeed the case.

Nel’s re-examination, on day nine of the trial, followed a morning in which Vermeulen was grilled by Pistorius’s lawyer Barry Roux on apparent oversights in the police’s forensic investigation of the fatal shooting.

Roux repeatedly asked why Vermeulen had failed to investigate the provenance of a footprint on a panel of the meranti door, which was on displayed in court for a second day.

He said it provided proof that Pistorius had been wearing his prostheses and tried to kick down the door, since an independent expert had found bits of fabric attached to the wood.

Roux then proceeded to show the High Court in Pretoria a picture of his client’s bloodied prosthetic legs.

The right leg had blood streaks on it, and one of the grey ankle socks had a dark stain near the toes.

Vermeulen conceded that only part of the prosthesis – the shin – had been examined by him, saying he had received Pistorius’s prosthetic legs without the socks.

“I was not requested to do analysis on the prosthetic foot, except for that mark that was on the shin,” said Vermeulen.

He reiterated that he had only been asked to focus on analysing the cricket bat and the strike marks from the bat on the door.”

Roux wryly commented: “It would have been fantastic as a qualified foot print examiner seeing that mark… to just do the test.”

In earlier testimony, Vermeulen contradicted Pistorius’s account, as told in his bail hearing, that he was wearing his prosthetic legs when he used a cricket bat to force open a locked toilet door in his house.

Based on the disabled athlete’s body measurements, he must have been on his stumps both when he fired the shots that killed Steenkamp and when he swung at the door with the bat, Vermeulen said under questioning from Nel.

Vermeulen was the first police witness to take the stand since Pistorius went on trial last week and pleaded not guilty to premeditated murder.

His grilling by the defence was widely expected, given the fact that the initial investigating officer had conceded during Pistorius’s bail hearing last February that he had contaminated the scene of the shooting.

Vermeulen refused to accept Roux’s contention that the footprint was necessarily the result of Pistorius kicking the door panel, maintaining that it could also have been made by him stumbling on it later, after he had bashed it down.

Roux said it would be demonstrated that Pistorius can kick high.

On Wednesday, Pistorius again broke down in court after retching into a bucket beside him earlier this week as a pathologist testified in graphic detail about Steenkamp’s injuries.

He wept and gagged as photographs of her body were briefly seen on the screens positioned around the court along with images of a gun, the bloodied toilet cubicle floor in which she was shot and bullet casings.

The double amputee who became an Olympic sprinter admits that he shot Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year but contends that he mistook her for an intruder hiding in the locked toilet of his home on Pretoria. – Sapa

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