Oscar cop grilled on ‘missing evidence’

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00027680 AP Forensic investigator Colonel Johannes Vermeulen speaks during his cross-examination by Barry Roux, the lawyer defending Oscar Pistorius. Picture: Themba Hadebe

Pretoria - Oscar Pistorius's defence lawyer has spent Thursday morning grilling an expert witness who apparently failed to do a comprehensive examination of the evidence he analysed.

Colonel Johannes Vermeulen was called to testify in Pistorius's murder trial on Wednesday to explain how the athlete had tried to break down the toilet door after having shot and killed Reeva Steenkamp last year.

At his bail hearing, Pistorius testified that he was wearing his prostheses when he forced open the toilet door after fatally shooting Steenkamp through it. He said when he opened fire, he was on his stumps and scared, thinking that there was an intruder hiding inside the cubicle.

On Wednesday, Vermeulen said that based on the height and position of marks on the bathroom door, Pistorius had to have been on his stumps when trying to break the door.

This contradicted Pistorius's version of events where he said that he had been on his stumps when shooting at an alleged intruder through the door, but had put on his prosthesis before trying to break the door down.

On Wednesday, defence advocate Barry Roux managed to get Vermeulen to admit that the door had been contaminated, with marks appearing on the door weeks after the incident, a bloody police footprint on the door, and missing chunks of wood from one of the panels.

On Thursday, Roux first asked Vermeulen if he would be willing to provide his phone records from Wednesday, which he agreed to. Vermeulen also added he had not telephoned anyone involved in the investigation since he began his testimony on Wednesday.

He was then quizzed on his trace analysis qualifications, and Vermeulen said he had attended several courses on this subject.

Vermeulen said he never claimed he was a certified tool mark investigator.

Roux then asked about the pieces of the bathroom door that had gone missing, and how Vermeulen admitted they could have helped shed more light on the investigation.

Vermeulen said on Wednesday that he had asked about the whereabouts of these splinters, but on Thursday morning was unable to say who he had asked or exactly when.

Roux continued to question about how the pieces went missing, but Vermeulen was unable to answer.

He said he'd been brought on to examine only the cricket bat and its effects on the door, and hadn't “bothered” about the other marks.

“You are as much in the service of the accused as the defence is,” said Roux, querying why the forensic analyst had not bothered to look for the missing evidence or a proper examination.

He also reiterated that he had only heard Pistorius's version of how he tried to break down the door last week.

Vermeulen said he also wasn't asked to do analysis on Pistorius's prosthetic foot which he said he also used to try and break down the cubicle door.

He did admit it was possible Pistorius had kicked the door, creating another mark, but that it was a bit high.

Roux argued that it would be easy for Pistorius to kick at that height.

Roux then presented Vermeulen's case file notes, and asked the investigator if he had removed anything.

He said he had not.

The evidence list mentioned that the holster of the weapon used in the shooting was also analysed, and Roux asked Vermeulen where it had gone.

But Vermeulen said that the holster had already been examined and that these documents were to keep track of where evidence is transferred between personnel.

He said he had the holster for four days in March 2013.

On Wednesday, Vermeulen said he did not have pictures or videos of the various positions he tried while figuring out how Pistorius hit the door with the cricket bat. On Thursday morning, he said he tried many alternative positions, but only photographed the matching ones where the bat fit the marks.

He then said he had one where he was in “an unnatural” position.

Vermeulen also said there was no file on the prosthetic legs taken for analysis by police, on recommendation from the Investigating officer, as he did not find anything.

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The Star and Sapa

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