Africa

Pistorius trial: Forensic tests challenged

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Media captionOscar Pistorius' prosthetic leg was examined in court

Forensic tests carried out by an expert for Oscar Pistorius' murder trial have been rigorously challenged by the state prosecutor in South Africa.

Roger Dixon's sequence for the shots that killed the athlete's girlfriend contradicts that of a police ballistics witness and pathologist.

Mr Pistorius denies intentionally killing Reeva Steenkamp in the early hours of Valentine's Day last year.

He says he fired in fear at a toilet door, mistaking her for an intruder.

The prosecution says the 29-year-old model and law graduate was deliberately killed after the couple had an argument.

The double amputee Olympic and Paralympic athlete faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted of premeditated murder.

The trial has now adjourned for a break and will reconvene on Monday 5 May.

'Not entertainment place'

Before the questioning got under way on Thursday, Judge Thokozile Masipa warned those watching the televised proceedings in an overflow court next door about their "unruly'' behaviour.

She said she had been made aware that there had been shouting and cheering at times.

"It is not an entertainment place,'' she said.

The prosecutor Gerrie Nel then continued his cross examination of Mr Dixon, a defence witness, who says he believes Ms Steenkamp was standing at an angle to the door and that all four bullets hit her as she fell to the ground.

Earlier in the trial, ballistics expert Captain Christiaan Mangena said he believed Ms Steenkamp was standing up facing the closed door when she was hit in the right hip.

He said she then fell back on to a magazine rack next to the toilet before three more bullets were fired at the door, one of which missed her.

The BBC's Pumza Fihlani in court says Mr Dixon's testimony challenges the state's version that Ms Steenkamp would have had time to scream after the first bullet and that Mr Pistorius then changed aim and continued firing.

Mr Dixon also told the court about light tests carried out in Mr Pistorius' bedroom and sound tests of a cricket bat striking a door and bullets hitting a door.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Some people following the trial gather outside the court each day
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Reeva Steenkamp's mother has been in court most days
Image copyright AP
Image caption The trial began at the beginning of March

But Mr Nel has sought to cast doubt on Mr Dixon's credibility and qualifications as a forensics witness, suggesting some of the tests were amateurish.

He criticised him for not using a model the same height as Mr Pistorius when on his stumps in a photograph to illustrate what neighbours would have been able to see through the bathroom window at night.

In the photograph a man was kneeling in front of the window.

"It is something I omitted. I overlooked it at the time," said Mr Dixon, a geologist and university lecturer who worked as head of materials analysis at a police forensic laboratory in Pretoria for 18 years until 2012.

Mr Nel also sought to prove that he was out of his depth when he was testifying about marks on Ms Steenkamp's body.

He had identified one as a bruise which other pathologists had not, Mr Nel said.

At one stage on Wednesday Mr Dixon used the phrase "in my layman's understanding".

"Now you call yourself a layman. You see how irresponsible it is to make inferences that aren't in your area of expertise," Mr Nel replied.

Before the court adjourned, he was re-examined by defence lawyer Barry Roux and described how an official at the shooting range, where the sound tests were carried out, mistook the sound of the cricket bat striking the door for gunshots.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Dixon told the court that in his opinion the bullets were fired first then the cricket bat was used
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp had been dating for three months

Mr Dixon took the stand on Tuesday after seven days of testimony from the sprinter came to an end with him reading a Valentine's Day card from his girlfriend.

If Mr Pistorius is acquitted of murder, the court must consider an alternative charge of culpable homicide, for which he could receive about 15 years in prison.

He also faces charges of illegally firing a gun in public and of illegally possessing ammunition, both of which he denies.

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

Mr Pistorius is known as the "Blade Runner" because of the carbon-fibre prosthetics he uses on the track.

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.

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