Gunshot residue expert takes stand in Dewani trial

2014-11-14 17:03

The presence of gunshot particles on a person does not mean they fired a shot, a police forensic analyst told the Western Cape High Court today during the murder trial of Shrien Dewani.

“Primer residue [analysis] cannot determine whether or not someone has discharged a firearm. It merely identifies the presence of primer residue,” Colonel Thandiwe Mlabateki told the court.

“The result should not be looked at in isolation. Circumstances in which the shot was fired must therefore be taken into consideration,” he said.

Mlabateki was the 16th state witness to testify during the British man’s trial for the murder of his wife Anni on November 13 2010.

One of the gloves used in the shooting was recovered in Khayelitsha on November 19 2010.

The area of the glove between the thumb and index finger tested positive for primer residue.

Prosecutor Adrian Mopp said it was common cause that a number of primer residue samples were collected from the vehicle.

Mlabateki, with 19 years’ experience in chemistry and 13 in primer residue analysis, testified that when a shot was fired, primer residue particles were ejected through the openings of a firearm.

These were commonly deposited onto the hands of the shooter and on anything within a 2m radius.

He said if a shot was fired within a vehicle, residue could be found within all exposed areas of the interior.

Environmental factors, such as wind and rain, and the texture of surfaces might influence the particles.

Particles would lie loose on surfaces and could be removed by rubbing or washing the hands.

The testing laboratory set a maximum time lapse of two-and-a-half hours after a shooting to test a live person for residue.

In the matter before the court, the expert determined from looking at a photo of the glove that it was preserved because it was turned inside out and was thus suitable for testing.

Mlabateki concluded that a positive result indicated one of three things: the person fired a firearm; the person was within a 2m radius of a shooting; or there was secondary transfer through handling a firearm, spent cartridge or gun holster.

The state previously called ballistics expert Warrant Officer Pieter Engelbrecht to testify on a number of issues including primer residue.

During his testimony, he said he could not testify on primer residue because he was not an expert in that field.

Earlier this week, Deputy Judge President Jeanette Traverso lambasted the state for running around to find witnesses and wrap up parts of the investigation four years after the incident.

Mopp conceded at the time that the state had thought to obtain the results of the primer residue test only after the defence asked for it.

Dewani has pleaded not guilty to charges including kidnapping, murder and defeating the ends of justice.

He claims they were hijacked while taxi driver Zola Tongo was driving them through Gugulethu in his minibus on Saturday, November 13 2010.

He was released unharmed, but Anni was driven away. She was found shot dead in the abandoned minibus in Khayelitsha the next morning.

The state alleges that he conspired with others to stage the hijacking for R15 000.

Dewani maintains that Tongo was to have helped him organise a surprise helicopter trip for Anni for R15 000.

Tongo is serving an 18-year jail term and Mziwamadoda Qwabe, a 25-year jail term.

Xolile Mngeni was serving life in jail for firing the shot that killed Anni, but died in prison from a brain tumour on October 18.

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