Oscar's defence pokes holes in State's case

2014-03-12 22:09
(Alexander Joe, AFP)

(Alexander Joe, AFP)

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Pretoria - The State’s weakest moments in the trial of Oscar Pistorius were shown on Wednesday as forensic analyst Colonel Johannes Vermeulen testified.

His job would have been to examine the cricket bat and the door that the athlete bashed through to get to his dying girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp after he shot her last year on the morning of Valentine’s Day.

He specialises in materials analysis, but found himself having to answer for the fact that there are strong signs that the evidence was handled incorrectly.

It raises the spectre of police incompetence that has sunken so many cases before.

Barry Roux Pistorius’s lead defence advocate, challenged Vermeulen on two points: That he didn’t gather the evidence properly, and that it was tampered with after it was taken into police custody.

The colonel visited the scene of the shooting in March 2013, and then examined the bat and door after it was taken into the police forensic laboratory.

The photos he took, when compared to those taken about a month later show that someone placed a boot-print on some of the door splinters and then wiped them off.

The photos also show that Vermeuelen missed some of the door parts when he did his in-lab analysis.

He couldn’t quite say how that happened.

He also couldn’t explain where the boot-print came from, or who wiped it off. But this is not the only mistake the police made with the evidence - it was apparently mishandled from the very beginning. The door was placed in a “body bag” and not wrapped in bubble-wrap as it should have.

Some of the door shards were evidently lying around and the investigating officers failed to point them out to the analyst.

Safeguarding the door

Vermeulen explained that according to standing police orders, the evidence has to be protected and kept in either a gun safe or a locked room with controlled access.

Entry and exit is either via a single key, or some kind of biometric-controlled access. In practical terms, that means that someone who would have been trained in such things, or had the authority to access an evidence room, screwed up massively.

So does this mean that Pistorius goes free? Probably not.

From Vermeuelen’s interpretation of the facts, the door helps to support his claim that he shot through it, and even that he kicked at it with his prosthetic.
(A quick aside: The colonel proved quite adept at handling Roux’s verbal gymnastics, and refused to accept that the only way that the prosthetic “stain” could have been on that piece of wood was in the way that the defence explains it. Pistorius could have stepped on it while carrying Steenkamp’s body out of the toilet.)

At present, none of this appears to speak to his intentions with respect to pulling the trigger.

The State could still argue that it doesn’t speak to other competent verdicts that might arise, such as culpable homicide.

The smoking gun, if you like, is still there.

But it is worrying that even in such a high-profile case, the police could make such basic mistakes. It does not make the public more confident that justice can always be served.

One shudders to think of the criminals who went free like this.

- News24
Read more on:    police  |  reeva steenkamp  |  oscar pistorius  |  barry roux  |  crime  |  pistorius trial
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