Africa

Pistorius trial: Police 'disturbed' evidence at scene

  • 18 March 2014
  • From the section Africa

Oscar Pistorius' defence team accused a South African police photographer of mishandling the crime scene during day 12 of his trial in Pretoria.

The athlete's lawyer said some images showed "great disturbance" was caused to the evidence but the police officer insisted he had followed procedure.

Mr Pistorius denies murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp last year, saying he thought she was an intruder.

The prosecution says he intentionally shot the model after an argument.

The court also heard from a police ballistics expert on Tuesday, but the trial was adjourned before he explained the key points of his investigation into the trajectory of the bullets from Mr Pistorius' gun.

Captain Christian Mangena said he had measured Mr Pistorius with his prosthetic legs on and off to try to determine whether he was wearing them or not. He is expected to disclose the results of his inquiries on Wednesday.

Correspondents say whether or not Mr Pistorius was on his prosthetic limbs is important because it could match parts of his story that he accidentally shot Ms Steenkamp at his house on Valentine's Day 2013.

Images examined

Photographs of the bloody scene at Mr Pistorius' house were shown to court as police photographer Bennie Van Staden was cross-examined by defence lawyer Barry Roux for a second day.

Mr Roux painstakingly examined pictures taken by Mr Van Staden and another police officer, and said evidence had been moved around in violation of police procedure.

He challenged Mr Van Staden over two images of Mr Pistorius' bedroom, which showed tissues, a CD and a remote control in different positions.

"How does it happen that there's such a great disturbance of that scene?" Mr Roux asked.

Mr Van Staden admitted that he had moved bloodied towels and a duvet to check for further evidence, but said that he had taken pictures of the original scene before doing so.

Oscar Pistorius arriving at the court in Pretoria
Oscar Pistorius was pictured wearing blood-soaked shorts
Reeva Steenkamp and Oscar Pistorius
Oscar Pistorius shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp through a toilet door

Mr Roux also used metadata on each photo to suggest that the two policemen were taking pictures in the same room at the same point, despite Mr Van Staden testifying that he had worked alone.

According to times on the photographs, both Mr Van Staden and the other police officer, identified as Colonel Motha, were in the bathroom at the same time.

"You did not see Colonel Motha?" Mr Roux asked Mr Van Staden, who said he did not. "How big is this bathroom?" Mr Roux ironically replied.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel questioned Mr Roux's assertion that the two policemen had been working together, asking why it was that the other officer had not been captured in any of Mr Van Staden's pictures.

Mr Nel also said that debating whether the cricket bat that Mr Pistorius used to smash open the bathroom door had been moved "millimetres" for a photograph did not change the fact that it was lying next to a puddle of blood.

Mr Van Staden took hundreds of images at the scene, including several of the bloodied cricket bat as well as bullet casings and a gun.

He was called to the scene at around 04:50 local time (02:50 GMT) and took pictures of the accused and the deceased, as well as pictures of the rooms of the house.

He described nine photographs that he took of Mr Pistorius soon after the shooting, with the athlete wearing blood-soaked shorts in the garage of his home.

Errors by police

Mr Roux has challenged previous police witnesses over details of their movements in a bid to uncover contradictions that support his argument that the investigation was bungled.

So far, the defence has pointed out several errors by police investigators, including an officer handling the suspected murder weapon without gloves and another stealing from the house.

INTERACTIVE
  • ×

  • 1. Balcony

    × Balcony

    Mr Pistorius said in his statement at the start of the trial that he woke in the early hours and walked on his stumps to the balcony, pulled in two fans, closed the sliding door and drew curtains. He said that shortly before he had spoken to Reeva, who was in bed beside him.

    He said he rejected prosecution claims that a witness heard arguing coming from the house before the shooting.

  • 2. Bathroom window

    ×

    Mr Pistorius said he heard the bathroom window sliding open and believed that an intruder, or intruders, had entered the bathroom through a window which was not fitted with burglar bars.

    "Unbeknown to me, Reeva must have gone to the toilet in the bathroom at the time I brought in the fans," he said.

    Mr Pistorius said he approached the bathroom armed with his firearm, to defend himself and his girlfriend, believing Ms Steenkamp was still in bed.

  • 3. Shooting

    ×

    Both sides agree four bullets were fired. Ms Steenkamp was hit three times.

    Mr Pistorius said he fired his weapon after hearing a noise in the toilet which he thought was the intruder coming out of the toilet to attack him and Ms Steenkamp.

    He said he was in a fearful state, knowing he was on his stumps and unable to run away or properly defend himself.

    Mr Pistorius said he rejected claims that he was on his prostheses when he shot at the door.

    A witness told the trial she woke to hear a woman screaming and a man shouting for help. She said that after the screams she heard four shots.

  • 4. Bedroom

    ×

    Mr Pistorius said he went back to the bedroom after shooting at the toilet door, still shouting for Reeva. Lifting himself up onto the bed, he felt over to the right hand side of it and noticed Ms Steenkamp was not there.

    Mr Pistorius said this was when he realised she could have been in the toilet.

  • 5. Toilet door

    ×

    Mr Pistorius said he went back to the bathroom but the toilet was locked, so he returned to the bedroom, pulled on his prosthetic legs, turned on the lights before bashing in the toilet door with a cricket bat.

    Forensics expert Johannes Vermeulen told the court that the height of the marks on the door caused by the cricket bat suggest Mr Pistorius was on his stumps at the time.

  • 6. Emergency calls

    ×

    Mr Pistorius's defence team say he then called security at the gated housing complex and a private paramedic service before carrying Ms Steenkamp downstairs.

    A security guard claimed it was the other way round, and he had called Mr Pistorius first after reports of gunfire. However, phone records shown to the court revealed Mr Pistorius called the estate manager at 3:19am, a minute later he called the ambulance service and at 3:21am he called estate security.

    A minute later he received an incoming call - estate security calling him back.

    According to police phone expert Francois Moller, Mr Pistorius called his friend Justin Divaris a short time later and just after 4:00am he called his brother Carl.

The trial is expected to call on more than 100 witnesses. It had been set to last for three weeks, but looks likely to be extended.

The state is seeking to convince the court that Mr Pistorius deliberately shot Ms Steenkamp - a 29-year-old model, reality TV star and law graduate - following an argument.

There are no juries at trials in South Africa, and his fate will ultimately be decided by the judge, assisted by two assessors.

If found guilty, the 27-year-old - a national sporting hero and double amputee dubbed the "blade runner" because of the prosthetic limbs he wears to race - could face life imprisonment.

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