Oscar trial: there is a case to answer

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IOL pic mar26 oscar pistorius in court on 2503

Reuters

Oscar Pistorius sits in the dock at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on March 25, 2014. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko

Johannesburg - As the State closed its case on Tuesday, there was a general sensation of going out to some light drizzle.

A re-examination of Colonel Johannes Vermeulen was not the courtroom fire we might have hoped for. Had the State’s journey been ground down to an exhausted halt by Barry Roux?

Forensic expert Dr David Klatzow suggested that we imagine the State’s case was a bus and prosecutor Gerrie Nel the driver. Yes, Roux has been on the sidelines firing shots as it inched along. There may be holes in the bus, but that does not mean it’s ready for the scrapyard. “The question is: Is the bus still rolling?” said Klatzow.

In his view, and in the view of a number of lawyers, the bus has its wheels intact, and the State is raring to cross-examine the defence’s witnesses and Oscar Pistorius himself.

“There is a case to answer,” said Professor James Grant, of the Wits University School of Law.

But what about all those faults and doubts in the State’s case that Roux raised? The towel moved from the cellphone; the footprint on the door; Anette Stipp thinking the toilet light was on when it was broken; and was Reeva leaning forward or standing up inside the toilet?

Kelly Phelps, senior lecturer at the Department of Public Law, University of Cape Town, said the State had the burden of proof in any criminal case.

The State had to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

She said facts were presented to the court by both sides, and the judge would draw her conclusion from those facts. To get a conviction, the State’s version needed to be the only reasonable inference that could be drawn from the evidence presented.

Phelps said she felt the State had been doing quite poorly. “None of their evidence has conclusively disputed the defence’s version of events,” she said.

But the whole is more than its parts. Faults with individual testimony should not be viewed as the downfall of the State’s case. Grant told of how his own lecturer, Professor Andrew Paizes, had explained it to him when he (Grant) was a student.

The evidence Nel presented should not be viewed as a chain, which could be broken by its weakest link. The bits of evidence were like fibres that wound around each other to form a rope. “The strength of the rope is not made up by the strength of the individual strands alone,” he said.

“Not every piece of evidence… needs to pass the ultimate standard. What our courts… do is consider the cumulative effect of all the evidence and ultimately whether there is a reasonable doubt given (which has) a cumulative effect.”

Phelps said she felt the cellphone records had been the most important piece of evidence in the State’s case as they spoke about motive.

But Grant said he felt the cellphone records should have been deemed inadmissible as they were both hearsay and character evidence. He said both forms of evidence were admitted only under exceptional circumstances, and he was surprised the defence had not objected.

He felt the testimony of the neighbours, particularly that of Anette Stipp, was highly damning.

But it seems agreed that Pistorius will testify. It’s crucial to his defence as so much of it rests on his version of what happened on Valentine’s Day last year.

The Star


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