Sunday 21 January 2018

Pistorius 'bashed door on stumps'

Oscar Pistorius arrives at the high court in Pretoria (AP)
Oscar Pistorius arrives at the high court in Pretoria (AP)
Forensic investigator JG Vermeulen, with a cricket bat in hand, demonstrates on a mock-up toilet and door how the door could have been broken down, during the trial of Oscar Pistorius (AP)

A forensic analyst has demonstrated in court how Oscar Pistorius may have bashed a cricket bat on the door of his toilet to get to the girlfriend he had just fatally shot.

JG Vermeulen said he believed the double amputee was on his stumps when he swung his bat at the brown cubicle door, and the expert witness got down on his knees to demonstrate to the courtroom using a cricket bat and a mock bathroom.

But the defence team, on cross-examination of the policeman, insisted instead that Pistorius was wearing his prosthetic legs when hitting the door in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine's Day last year - and the marks from the bat on the door were lower down because the athlete swung with a bent back.

The intricate argument over whether Pistorius was on his prosthetic limbs or not is important because it could match parts of his story that he accidentally shot Reeva Steenkamp. It could also show that he is lying.

The athlete has said he fearfully approached the bathroom on his stumps on February 14 last year and shot Ms Steenkamp by mistake, thinking she was an intruder hiding behind the door. According to his account, he then put on his prostheses and tried to kick down the locked toilet door, and battered it with a cricket bat to get to his girlfriend after realising what he had done.

Prosecutors maintain he intentionally shot the 29-year-old model and have charged him with murder. He pleaded not guilty to all charges against him, which also include three firearm related counts.

The actual door that Pistorius shot through a year ago was erected in the Pretoria courtroom today. The bat he used that night was also used in the dramatic demonstration. And there was even a toilet cubicle behind the door, recreated to the exact specifications of the small area of Pistorius's bathroom where Ms Steenkamp was fatally shot, Mr Vermeulen said. It included a toilet bowl.

The door also had what appeared to be white tags on it and, lower down and below the handle, four bullet holes were clearly visible. Pistorius shot at Ms Steenkamp four times through the door, hitting her in the hip, arm and head. One shot missed, the court has heard.

Mr Vermeulen, who said he has 29 years of experience as a forensic analyst, said it was his belief that Pistorius was on his stumps - and against what the athlete says - when he hit the door with the bat.

"The marks is consistent with him being in a natural position without his prostheses," Mr Vermeulen said.

The police analyst was repeatedly asked by both the prosecution and defence to demonstrate his assertions by swinging the bat at the door.

"It's quite low down on the door," Mr Vermeulen testified about one of the marks he said were made by the bat. He said it was "not the normal position that I would expect from a mark from a cricket bat".

Defence lawyer Barry Roux countered that Pistorius hit the door with a "bent back" and that the low marks were consistent with such a body position.

He also made it clear that the prosecution had now retracted initial claims that Pistorius was on his prosthetics when he fired the shots that killed Ms Steenkamp. It is now accepted, Mr Vermeulen said, that he was probably on his stumps.

That mistaken claim by prosecutors in the early part of the investigation was used by them to argue there was premeditation in the killing because they believed the disabled runner planned the killing while putting his prosthetics limbs on.

Earlier, Mr Vermeulen also said a metal panel on the wall of the main bathroom in Pistorius's home had been damaged by being hit with a "hard" object, or after the object fell against it. The steel plate was new evidence. A photo of the damaged plate was shown.

Mr Roux raised questions about possible contamination of evidence related to police handling of the door. He also suggested Mr Vermeulen did not consider Pistorius's version of events, despite the policeman's assertion that he acted objectively in his investigation.

Mr Roux indicated that police investigators might have also left a shoe print on the door, the door itself might have been kept in a policeman's office and not in proper evidence storage, and missing fragments from the door were not examined.

Pistorius faces a possible life sentence if convicted of murder. The judge will ultimately decide on the verdict.

Press Association

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