Could this tiny wound be make or break for Oscar?

2014-05-11 15:00

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A tiny wound on Reeva Steenkamp’s back, no more than 12mm across, could be the difference between believing Oscar Pistorius was a man in fear for his life or of him being exposed as a murderer.

It was CSI Pretoria at his trial this week with the defence finally calling their star ballistics expert, Thomas “Wollie” Wolmarans.

Ironically, however, it was Wolmarans who might have found an important piece of evidence for the prosecution?– something the police missed completely.

To understand how this happened, one has to go back to three days after the fateful Valentine’s Day shooting on a quiet Sunday afternoon. Wollie Wolmarans had just been given the keys to Oscar Pistorius’ home by the police, who had completed their investigation.

He donned a protective suit, unlocked the door and began following the trail of blood to the toilet. Although the toilet door had been removed, Wolmarans nevertheless began an investigation that lasted days.

Late on the second evening, he stuck his hand into the toilet bowl and pulled out a bullet fragment, as well as a piece of a broken tile. The police might have missed it, not thinking that something might have landed up in the bloody water of the toilet bowl.

When Wolmarans handed over the bullet shard to former investigating officer, Hilton Botha, he could hardly have known that Gerrie Nel would use this very piece of evidence to try and prove the state’s case in court more than a year later.

On Friday, Nel asked Wolmarans under cross-examination if he thought the small abrasion on Steenkamp’s back (see graphic and pictures) could have been caused by a bullet fragment.

In stumbling English, Wolmarans replied: “If we look at the fragments that were retrieved from the crime scene?... especially underneath the book rack, that is not consistent with the type of abrasion on her back.”

At this point, Nel asked police photographer Bennie van Staden to place a blown-up photo of the wound next to Wolmarans’ bullet fragment (see graphic).

“Now Mr Wolmarans, do you see the striation marks [tiny parallel grooves] on the left of the wound? “The striation marks and that whole area is an exact replica of your bullet core,” Nel said triumphantly.

Wolmarans immediately baulked at this. “My Lady, really, I can’t see the resemblance,” he said. Indeed, it was vital to Pistorius’ cause that the bullet fragment?–?or any bullet fragment?–?could not have caused this wound on Steenkamp’s back.

If she was hit here by a bullet fragment from the second shot Pistorius had fired, she would have had to have fallen into a sitting position on the magazine rack, after being hit in the hip by the first shot.

Crucially, this version of events?– the state’s interpretation?–? creates enough of a time gap for Reeva to scream between the first shot and the fatal fourth shot to her head.

It could put paid to any claim of mistaken identity on his part. It also ties in with the testimony of several neighbours who said they had heard a woman’s screams before and during the shooting.

When Nel asked Pistorius during his cross-examination if he was “sure that Reeva didn’t scream after you fired the first shot”, the athlete fell silent for 31 seconds.

But if Wolmarans is right, and the wound on Steenkamp’s back was caused by her falling backwards on to the magazine rack, it means all three bullets that hit Reeva had to have hit her before she fell to the ground. This is more likely when dealing with a terrified person firing a gun in rapid succession. Tomorrow, Nel will continue his cross-examination of Wolmarans.

He will still have to explain how his bullet shard travelled from hitting Steenkamp in the back to inside the toilet bowl, as Wolmarans has already pointed out. Wolmarans has spent so much of his career around firearms that he is hard of hearing. For Pistorius’ sake, it is hoped that he will disprove Nel’s reconstruction of Steenkamp’s death.

As Wolmarans said during his testimony this week: “My Lady, what happened behind that door, we will never know.”

What happened behind Oscar’s bathroom door?

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