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Old court case haunts Oscar witness

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Oscar Pistorius listens to testimony during his murder trial at the High Court in Pretoria. Photo: Herman Verwey

Pretoria -The defence's ballistics expert in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial faced questions on a previous case in which his testimony was allegedly rejected.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel began his cross-examination of the defence's ballistics expert with a demonstration in which state expert Chris Mangena used a laser in court.

Mangena had previously analysed the bullet trajectory of the four shots Oscar Pistorius fired through his toilet cubicle door the night he killed Reeva Steenkamp.

Using an aerosol can, Mangena made visible the laser directed at the second bullet hole on the bathroom door which has been erected in the Pretoria High Court room since close to the beginning of the trial.

The laser pointer landed directly on the points Mangena had indicated on the wall of the cubicle in his report.

This was in dispute of the defence ballistics expert Wollie Wolmarans' opinion that it did not make sense how this particularly bullet could have ricocheted off the wall and caused abrasions on Steenkamp's back.

Defence advocate Barry Roux requested that the laser be used through the other bullet holes to determine their relation to the points on the wall.

Nel then asked about Wolmarans' report from 23 April, constructed almost two months after the trial began. Wolmarans said that it was an ongoing report, and was amended as he received new information.

The expert said he'd occasionally furnished new information in verbal and note-form to the defence team, but never a signed report prior to this one. He then admitted that a report had been given to the defence prior to the trial. Nel asked why Wolmarans was hiding his original report from the court. Wolmarans said his current report was not much different to his original, with mostly grammar and other minor errors altered.

“I didn't see it (as) necessary to bring it to court,” said Wolmarans.

Nel asked if he would have a problem with the court seeing the report. But Wolmarans said that his work was “like a puzzle” and that the original report had some missing pieces. He said that the first time he examined the crime scene, the toilet cubicle door had been taken by police for analysis, and he was only able to examine it later.

Nel said he wanted to know how Wolmarans' views had changed over time.

The expert said his original report was not saved on his computer, just his notes that he sent through to the defence team.

He said he wasn't able to remember if he provided the team with an electronic copy of the original report.

Nel asked if Wolmarans had altered his report after consulting with the defence.

“I was helped with my English, but never ever was I asked to alter my report to suit the defence's case,” said Wolmarans.

Nel then moved on to a test that the defence conducted where they struck a cricket bat against a door like the cubicle's.

Pistorius claimed he broke through the door with a bat after the shooting, and the defence has argued that the gunshot sounds neighbours may have heard after the initial shooting was this striking of the bat against the door.

Wolmarans said he was present at this test. He said Pistorius himself had struck the door during the test, where a decibel test was conducted. Wolmarans said he couldn't comment on the decibel test because he wasn't a sound expert.

Nel asked about Roger Dixon, a forensic geologist brought to the stand two weeks ago, who was attacked for testifying on topics, such as ballistics and blood spatter, on which he wasn't trained. Wolmarans said he had met with Dixon “for a beer” shortly after he left the stand.

Wolmarans said he had discussed Dixon's testimony, but that he wouldn't take any advice on ballistics from him. Nel argued that the court should also disregard anything Dixon said on ballistics.

He admitted it “wouldn't be wise”.

Nel asked if Wolmarans had ever consulted with Pistorius about what happened on the night of the shooting.

Wolmarans said he had not, even though Pistorius had been in attendance at the ballistics and sound tests conducted by the defence.

The expert said Pistorius had left one of the tests after being shown a gruesome crime scene photo, and had even vomited.

“Mr Wolmarans, you show your bias, you just wanted to say the accused vomited,” barked Nel.

Wolmarans took exception to this and said he'd never lied or shown bias in a court of law.

“Are you saying a court never rejected your evidence?” asked Nel.

Wolmarans said in another violence case where his evidence had been disputed, the advocate had told thim that this was because his (Wolmarans’s) evidence had been based on that of the accused, and that that had been rejected.

The prosecutor asked who had provided Pistorius' position in the bathroom where he had fired.

Wolmarans said he'd got the location from Mangena, and he agreed with this part of Mangena's analysis.

Nel then returned to the bullet trajectory demonstrated by the prosecution. Wolmarans said he greatly respected Mangena's analytical abilities, and he believed this was a mutual respect.

Nel asked that if one moves the position the laser to aim through the third bullet hole, it would not line up with the hole on the bathroom wall, as it had with the second hole.

Wolmarans said that if Pistorius had moved his firearm further forward and to the right, it could possibly work.

But Nel said that Pistorius' whole body would have had to move forward and to the right to line up with the hole, but this would place him near the wash-basin, a different location to where it had been determined from which he'd shot. The first bullet hole, caused by the projectile that struck Steenkamp in the hip, was not contested by Wolmarans.

Nel said that Dixon had argued that Steenkamp would have fallen backwards and to the right after this first bullet hit her. Wolmarans accepted this was what Dixon had said.

Nel also said the state pathologist determined the head wound was probably caused by the final projectile, but Wolmarans said this wound could have been caused by the third or fourth bullet.

Wolmarans was then asked to explain Steenkamp's movement after she was hit. Wolmarans said Steenkamp would not have been able to move voluntarily.

The expert went into the reconstructed bathroom to demonstrate, despite a recent back operation which he said could limit his movement.

He said that after she was hit on the hip, collapsed and raised her arms. She was then hit on the arm and finally her head.

Nel said that based on how Wolmarans had demonstrated how Steenkamp's arm was in front of the second bullet hole, it would have been impossible for the bullets to hit her skull, as there was no space for her head in the confined space if she had fallen over.

Wolmarans said there was enough space.

Explaining Steenkamp's hand injury, he theorised that a bullet could have gone through the webbing of her raised hand and into the wall, followed by another bullet hitting her in the head.

“Is your evidence that the accused fired rapidly?” asked Nel. Wolmarans said that the possibility was that the bullets were fired quickly to have caused these wounds.

He said he'd not asked Pistorius about how he'd fired. Wolmarans said he believed that the blood on the magazine rack was from Steenkamp's arm wound and that she would have been able to end up leaning against the toilet bowl after the shots were fired.

He said that it was likely the rack was against the back wall during the shooting, which directly contradicted Pistorius' version that the rack was against the wall opposite the toilet.

Nel pointed out that Pistorius' version was therefore incorrect.

The prosecutor then said that body tissue against the back wall also must have come from Steenkamp's head wound. But Wolmarans said that the arm wound could have spattered on to the wall as she fell. Nel argued that her arm was too close to the door in the defence's version to believe the exit wound spatter could have hit this wall.

Nel then moved on to the back abrasions found on Steenkamp. Earlier, Wolmarans said this must have been caused by her hitting the rack, but the state believed that a bullet fragment probably caused them.

Wolmarans was unable to say, however, which part of the rack could have caused these marks.

Nel showed the court an image of a bullet fragment found on the scene, as well as the small abrasions on Steenkamp's back. Nel said the striation marks of the wounds were an exact replica of the core fragment.

He said the right hand edge of the fragment was raised, and matched the one side of the marks.

Wolmarans denied the match, saying that the fragment would have created an uneven marking not seen on the bruise.

He said that if the magazine rack had caused the bruises, it was through the fabric of Steenkamp's vest.

But Wolmarans couldn't say if the vest fabric could have caused the striations.

shain.germaner@inl.co.za

Click here for IOL’s live blog about the Oscar trial.


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