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Dirk Olivier
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Reeva: How far was she behind the door?

01 April 2014, 07:18

There are two, in my view important, pieces of ballistic information that was not explored by the prosecution during the testimony of Capt. Chris Mangena. I will try to explain it below. 

I have always been interested in trying to solve problems when limited information is available. A few weeks before the Oscar Pistorius trial started, I decided to write a small computer code in C# to analyse the shot ballistics of this case. I have gathered some data from the internet mostly from pictures and plans of the bathroom, toilet door and cubicle, but also from sites to determine for instance Reeva’s height, etc. I also did measurements from my own (1.81m tall) in terms of arm lengths, head to shoulder height and so forth. From the preliminary data that I used it was clear that if Reeva was standing it was very unlikely that Oscar could have been on his prosthesis when he fired the shots, he has claimed. It was also clear that the first shot that hit her must have been in the hip if she was standing upright.

Well, that is now old news. But following the trial on the TV I gathered al lot of the accurate ballistic information presented in the case. These include the exact height of the bullet holes in the door, the height of the shot that hit Reeva in the hip and the height and position of the shot that missed and hit the back of the toilet cubicle wall. Also the positions and distance of the shots from the door handle. This made it possible for me to calculate the horizontal floor shooting angle. For instance the missed shot had two known variables and the horizontal angle could be estimated. The computer code allows you to vary all these important input parameters.

From the analyses using the more accurate input data it was possible to determine where Reeva was standing in the toilet cubicle when she was hit in the hip. The calculations confirmed the ballistics expert's main conclusions that the shot at height 104.3 cm (shot B) was the shot that hit Reeva in the hip and that it must have been the first shot.  Also, it is most likely that Oscar was indeed on his stumps.

However, two very important points were never followed up in court. The first was the position of the empty cartridge shells. The position of the shells support the fact that the first shot was fired from the bathroom entrance and hence the shell was found in the passage. This was also claimed by the defence.

The most likely explanation (this was put to the ballistic expert by the defence) was that that shell was discharged from the pistol and bounced off the right hand side passage wall and ended up on the left hand side of the passage. The next three shots must have been fired from inside the bathroom, because the shells were found inside the bathroom, probably bouncing off the basin. The conclusion is that after Oscar fired the first shot he probably walked closer to the toilet door and fired the last three shots. This would explain the testimony of Dr. Michelle Burger that there was a pause between the 1st and the 2nd shot (the last three shots were fired in quick succession according to this witness).

The second very important piece of information was that from the available data one can calculate how far Reeva was standing behind the door and also the horizontal floor angle (that was about 40 degrees) from where the first shot was fired. The shots were not fired at a 90 degree angle into the door, but at an angle. The calculations show that she must have been standing at least 83 cm from the front wall of the toilet cubicle. From photos the inner dimensions (width) of the toilet cubicle can be estimated at about 100cm. In other words she was basically with her back against the wall towards the far corner of the toilet cubicle. Anything closer would not correspond with the shot angle of 5-6 degrees measured by the ballistics expert (and which is confirmed by my calculations).  It would also support very strongly the conclusion of the ballistics expert in terms of the position where she fell after the first shot.

If any reader is interested I will publish the C# computer code and a data file for Reeva standing when the shots were fired on my webpage where you can download and run the program and perform your own analyses. You also e-mail me at

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