Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Pistorius experts focus on door

Forensic experts have visited the villa where double-amputee Olympian Oscar Pistorius killed his girlfriend (AP)

Forensic experts working for Oscar Pistorius have visited the athlete's villa where he killed his girlfriend to reconstruct the Valentines' Day crime scene, reattaching the bullet-marked toilet door through which the fatal shots were fired.

Details of the defence's forensic specialists' work, released by The South African Police Service, underline the crucial importance of the cubicle door as evidence at Pistorius' trial early next year, where he faces a life sentence with a minimum of 25 years in prison if convicted of premeditated murder in Reeva Steenkamp's slaying.

The height of the bullet holes in the door and the trajectory of the four bullets fired by Pistorius from his licensed 9mm handgun into the cubicle should show if the disabled athlete was standing on his prosthetic limbs, as prosecutors maintain, or down on his stumps, as he says, and may help determine if he committed murder.

It is a stark difference in the two sides' versions of the killing, though not the only one.

Charging Pistorius with premeditated murder soon after the shooting, prosecutors said the Olympic and Paralympic runner took the time to put on his artificial limbs before walking to the bathroom and firing shots through the door, hitting the blonde law graduate three times. That shows intent, prosecutors say.

Pistorius says he did not have his prosthetics on and fired in self-defence while standing on his stumps, vulnerable and terrified of what he thought was a dangerous intruder and having no time to put his legs on.

If one version is proved true through forensic examination, it may not decide definitely if Pistorius shot with the intention to kill the woman he says he loved dearly, but it will surely boost one side's case and harm the other's in the mind of the judge who presides over the blockbuster trial in March and who will ultimately pronounce Pistorius innocent or guilty. South Africa does not have trial by jury.

"Just looking at the door evidence, it's (the door) going to be crucial and it's going to give the court an insight into what happened," said JC de Klerk, a ballistics expert who had 24 years' experience with South Africa's police force in Pretoria.

Pistorius' spokeswoman, Anneliese Burgess, said this week that his defence lawyers were working with a team of American forensic specialists brought in to help them prepare for the trial, but didn't give details.

Both sides accept the importance of the door in deciphering what happened in the pre-dawn hours at Pistorius' home in Pretoria eight months ago now, particularly as there are no eye-witnesses to the shooting apart from Pistorius.

Police said the door is "an important piece of evidence" and was released to Pistorius' forensic team from evidence storage on Monday and taken to be examined at his Silverwoods estate villa in the presence of police officers.

"They (Pistorius' forensic team) had made prior arrangements with the South African Police Service investigating team for the visit," police said in their statement. "The purpose of this visit was to enable them to have access to the toilet door and to reconstruct the crime scene.

"The investigating officer and a ballistic expert from SAPS were present during the examination of the toilet door. They had controlled access to the toilet door to enable them to conduct their own independent examination."

It was the second time investigators acting for Pistorius had visited the scene accompanied by the police's team, the statement said. Pistorius reportedly used South African forensic examiners in the days immediately after the shooting for an initial examination.

Police also said Pistorius' villa in the upmarket gated estate in the eastern suburbs of the South African capital was "no longer a crime scene and was handed back to him long ago." They said no other physical evidence was examined on Monday by Pistorius' experts.

In their case against the world-famous former poster boy of disabled sport, prosecutors also say they have witnesses who will testify to hearing a woman screaming before the sound of gunshots, alleging that the couple may have fought before Pistorius, possibly enraged, killed his girlfriend.

While those witness accounts also will be revealing at trial, prosecutors reiterated their belief that Pistorius was standing on his prosthetics when he shot, showing he intended to kill the 29-year-old Steenkamp.

AP

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