We put bat or bullet theory to test

By BOTHO MOLOSANKWE AND WILLEM VAN DE PUTTE Time of article published Mar 14, 2014

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Pretoria - Bang… bang, bang, bang! Cricket bat or gunshots? Oscar Pistorius’s lawyer, advocate Barry Roux, put it to witnesses last week that what they heard on February 14 last year was not gunshots but a cricket bat hitting the door.

Pistorius shot and killed Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year, and the defence states that immediately after realising the person behind the door was the model, he broke down the door with a cricket bat and shouted for help.

“Can you say that when you hit a cricket bat against a wall the sound would not resemble gunshots?” Roux asked at the murder trial in the High Court in Pretoria last week.

An American took him at his word and did the test on a shooting range. He filmed it and now it has gone viral.

On Thursday, Roux asked SAPS forensics expert Colonel Johannes Vermeulen if he had seen the clip – which finds you can’t tell the difference.

Armed with a wooden door, a cricket bat, Winchester ranger bullets and a Taurus PT197 pistol, The Star went out just afterwards and conducted an experiment at the International Training Academy in Roodepoort to determine the possibility of confusing the two sounds.

Firstly, however, the experiment was carried out at an indoor shooting range and not inside a confined bathroom space such as the one the incident happened in.

Secondly, the shooting range is next to the very busy Ontdekkers Road – whereas Steenkamp was shot in the early hours of the morning at a quiet estate.

The gun and ammunition were similar to that which Pistorius used.

Reports have suggested the bullets used were special, and others implied they could even be illegal.

However, Terrick Naudé, a firearm instructor and Glock armourer from Bernhard Agencies, said there was nothing special about the Winchester ranger bullets.

The ammunition could be found in any gun shop and, in fact, they were recommended for self-defence as they were less likely to pose a threat to innocent people in a crowded area.

“It’s not explosive and it’s not super-destructive. Normal bullets don’t deform. They go on a straight line, and if I fire a shot, there is a good enough chance that the bullet will enter and exit with enough power to injure someone further behind.

“The reason we generally recommend the Winchester is not because of any magic. It’s because the bullet is a lot more likely to stay in the attacker’s body,” he said.

Naudé also assisted with the experiment.

He fired four shots. Evan Warnich, another firearm instructor, then hit the door about 12 times with the bat.

The Star placed themselves about 60m away. With the noise from the heavy traffic, the team were able to hear the loud gunshots from the open doors of the sound-proofed range.

However, they were unable to hear the heavy pounding of the bat against the door.

According to audiologist Kirsten McLeod: “A gunshot would generally measure around 140 to 150 decibels, depending on the type of gun used. Cricket bats would measure at a much lower level of about 80 decibels.”

Oliver Knoppersen, a trainee acoustician from Pro Acoustics, measured the noise levels of the gun 1m away at 140.7 decibels, while the bat recorded 114.9 decibels.

What did the witnesses hear? Cricket bat or gunshots? That’s for Judge Thokozile Masipa to decide – and defence counsel Roux will still have his opportunity to lead his own experts who might well come to a different finding altogether.

The Star

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