The razzle-dazzle of Gerrie Nel

2014-05-18 15:00

To Oscar Pistorius’ supporters there is no greater villain than state prosecutor Gerrie Nel. But to those close to Reeva Steenkamp, the fiery prosecutor is a hero?–the man who finally forced Oscar to take responsibility for killing his model girlfriend. Charl du Plessis looks at how Nel flatfooted some key defence witnesses

1. Professor Jan Botha?–?“You see professor, I didn’t want to take you through this, but you gave the evidence, so I have to.”

Botha, a forensic pathologist, refutes state pathologist Professor Gert Saayman’s testimony that Steenkamp ate a meal two hours before her death.

Saayman testified that the human stomach would generally be empty between four and six hours after a meal and was surprised to find food in Steenkamp’s stomach when she ate eight hours before her death.

Botha, however, quotes medical literature to say that gastric emptying is so inexact it can be “summarily dismissed as irrelevant”.

But

Nel: “Do you agree that every day, thousands and thousands of surgical?... procedures [under anaesthesia] are undertaken on patients on the basis that complete gastric emptying had taken place within four to six hours otherwise the patient’s safety would be compromised? Am I correct?”

Botha: “That is correct.”

2. Oscar Pistorius?–?“You see Mr Pistorius, you’re trying but it’s not working.”

An emotional Oscar Pistorius tells the court and millions around the world that he fired at the toilet door while terrified for his life, thinking somebody was coming out to attack him.

“Before I knew it, I had fired four shots at the door.”

But

In a problematic turn of events for the athlete, he then added a second defence while under cross-examination, that he discharged the gun by accident.

Nel: “So now I’m asking you, Mr Pistorius, did your gun accidentally go off or did you fire at intruders? It’s easy.”

Pistorius: “My lady, my firearm was in my possession. I had my finger on the trigger it was an accident what happened?...?I didn’t intend to shoot anyone, I fired my firearm before I could think, before I even had a moment to comprehend what was happening.”

Nel: “You know Mr Pistorius, I’m going to go through your evidence, it is minute detail about when I [Pistorius] go slower, when I go faster?...?just on this point you don’t know, you didn’t have time to think. The court will not accept it Mr Pistorius, let’s try again.”

3. Roger Dixon?–?“Do you see how irresponsible it is to make inferences in areas [in which] you are not expert?”

Roger Dixon, a “forensic geologist” and former police forensic analyst, testifies about a range of forensic evidence.

Among others, he says that a bruise above Reeva Steenkamp’s right buttock must be an external injury caused when she fell against the magazine rack, a key part of the defence’s case.

But

Nel gets Dixon to read a paragraph from Saayman’s report, which says no foreign object could be detected under Steenkamp’s skin when he ran his hands over the bruise.

Nel: “And, based on that, you said that it must be, could be, a bruise and she fell against the magazine rack?”

Dixon: “Based on the photo [of the wound], plus this information, plus my reconstruction of events.”

Nel: “Did you take anything else into account?”

Dixon: “I’m not aware that there was much else available about that.”

Nel: “You’ll be surprised. Keep paging in that document until you get to page 8 of 9.”

[Nel has Dixon read out a later passage of the same report in which the pathologist found bullet fragments that caused the bruise when he dissected the area.]

Nel: “There he describes it and you missed it, he described the mark. And you missed it.”

4. Thomas “Wollie” Wolmarans?–?“You showed your bias.”

Wolmarans testifies that he believes we will “never know” what happened behind the toilet door, but says it is more likely that Steenkamp did not collapse on to the magazine rack as the state contends.

This is a key part of the defence’s case.

But

Under cross-examination Nel points out that Wolmarans’ final report to the defence was submitted well after the defence case had already started.

Nel: “Mr Dixon gave evidence and he was excused from court on 16 April?”

Wolmarans: “I can’t remember, but I assume correct.”

Nel: “I see your report dated 23 April. Is this the only report or the latest report?”

Wolmarans: “It’s an ongoing report.”

Nel: “So you made changes to the report as the case developed?”

Wolmarans: “My lady, the crime scene was not in the same condition any more?...?in most cases I gave a verbal report to the legal team as it goes on and [as] I get more information, I amend my report.”

Nel: “Now we know that Mr Dixon testified and was excused on 16 April. Did you meet him after that?”

Wolmarans: “Yes, my lady, he had a thorough cross-examination and I just thought I’ll take him for a beer.”

5. Professor Merryll Vorster?–?“You [got involved in the case] after the accused testified and after he was cross- examined.”

Vorster, a forensic psychiatrist, testifies that Oscar Pistorius suffers from Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

It is this testimony which, upon Nel’s request, will get Pistorius sent for mental evaluation. Roux tries to argue that the evidence about GAD is one of just some of the factors that need to be taken into account.

But

Nel: “The psychiatric factors you bring to the attention of the court are factors that may have affected his capacity to act in accordance with his understanding of wrongfulness at the time?”

Vorster: “Yes, it is a possibility that the court may use it.”

(This concession is the basis for Nel to ask the court to refer Pistorius for psychiatric evaluation.)

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