Blow to Oscar defence as star witness bows out

A STAR pathologist hired by Oscar Pistorius said yesterday he would not testify at the athlete's murder trial – another blow for his defence after a week of savage cross-examination.

Private forensic pathologist Reggie Perumal – who joined Pistorius's hand-picked team soon after Reeva Steenkamp was killed last year – will not take the stand, amid suggestions his postmortem findings support key parts of the prosecution's case.

Perumal has appeared in many high-profile cases in South Africa.

He was hired by Pistorius in time to attend the model's postmortem.

Asked if he would testify, the Durban pathologist said no. "I think you are aware that I can't say anything right now."

Perumal's absence from the witness box casts further doubt on the believability of Pistorius's story, after a week which saw the Paralympic star and one of his hired experts torn to shreds by prosecutor Gerrie Nel.

Perumal's unusual decision not to testify has attracted the attention of his fellow forensic pathologists.

Steve Naidoo, another forensic pathologist in Durban, said: "I have heard that it might be because he refused to amend his version. If so, and if Dr Perumal is not willing to twist the truth, then it is to his tremendous credit."

Naidoo, who said he had not talked directly to Perumal about the Pistorius case, said "an expert forensic pathologist, independent or otherwise, must remember his function is firstly toward the court".

State pathologist Gert Saayman said vegetable matter in Steenkamp's stomach suggested she had eaten about two hours prior to her death at 3.17am, which conflicts with Pistorius's version of events that the couple were peacefully asleep at that time. "To the best of my recollection he was in agreement," Saayman said of Perumal. "We must be on the same page before we leave the autopsy room," he said. "We don't have the opportunity to go back."

Instead of Perumal, the defence called Jan Botha, a former state pathologist who has carried out 25000 postmortems. He disputed Saayman's conclusion, saying that determining the time of death through gastric emptying was guesswork, calling it a "highly controversial and inexact science". – AFP