Oscar cops under fire

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vermeulen smashes bat SAPA Police forensic expert Colonel Johannes Vermeulen holds a cricket bat while standing next to the door of murder accused Oscar Pistoriuss toilet during cross-examination. Picture: Werner Beukes

Pretoria - Crime scene investigation was in the spotlight at the Oscar Pistorius trial on Wednesday.

Just over a year after the main investigating officer in the Paralympian’s murder trial admitted to compromising the crime scene and not wearing protective gear, another officer brought to the fore the police’s shoddy handling of crime scenes and evidence.

Under intense cross-examination by advocate Barry Roux SC on February 20 last year, former investigating officer Warrant Officer Hilton Botha was asked: “You were in the house without protective shoes right?”

His answer was “yes”.

Another question from Roux had been: “And you admit it compromised the scene?”

Botha’s response had been: “Yes, it was not deliberate.”

And, on Wednesday, shoe print marks that had not been on Pistorius’s toilet door when it was photographed on February 14 last year were clearly visible on the wooden door, which was brought into court, erected on a simulated frame of Pistorius’s toilet.

On the witness stand was Colonel Johannes Vermeulen, a commander of the material analysis section at the forensic science laboratory.

Vermeulen had earlier dealt a blow to Pistorius’s defence, saying there was no way the athlete could have been wearing his prosthetic legs when he bashed the wooden door with a cricket bat.

Pistorius, he said, had been on his stumps, according to his investigation on the marks on the door.

But the State’s bubble was burst when, under cross-examination, Roux pointed out that evidence could have been tampered with.

“We see on the photo (shown on screen in court) prints on a panel of the door which seem consistent with the footprints of a police shoe. How did that come about?” asked Roux.

Vermeulen replied: “I don’t know.”

Roux asked further: “Was the door you received (in April) in the same condition it was on February 14?” Vermeulen said “no”.

“I must admit it was not in the same condition. It was handled by several people and there was a footprint on it,” he said.

Asked to explain what had happened to the door between the day Pistorius fired shots at Reeva Steenkamp through the locked door and the time he received it for his investigations, Vermeulen said: “I cannot comment, I don’t know where the door was kept after it was collected from the scene.”

Said Roux: “This tells me this… while the door was in the safekeeping of forensic authorities, it somehow happened to have marks on it which did not exist on the 8th of March.”

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