Time of Reeva's last meal questioned

2014-04-07 11:26
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Oscar Pistorius in court - day 17

See pictures from day 17 of Oscar Pistorius's trial.

Pretoria - A forensic pathologist cast doubt on a State witness's testimony that Reeva Steenkamp ate about two hours before her death, the North Gauteng High Court heard on Monday.

"Professor Saayman testified that her last meal could have been between an hour to two hours before her death. What do you say to that?" Barry Roux, for murder accused paralympian Oscar Pistorius, asked pathologist Jan Botha.

"It could have been an hour or two, or it could have been considerably longer," Botha said. He was the first witness to testify for the defence.

Roux asked him if it was possible to determine accurately the time between Steenkamp's last meal and her death.

"I do not think so," he replied.

Roux was attempting to cast doubt on evidence by Prof Gert Saayman, who conducted the autopsy on Steenkamp, and who testified for the State previously. The State's evidence was that Steenkamp's last meal was probably around two hours before Pistorius shot her dead after 03:00 on 14 February - contradicting his bail statement that they went to bed at 22:00 the night before.

Gastric emptying

Botha earlier cautioned against using gastric emptying to determine a time of death. "It is a highly controversial and inexact science."

He said studies on which theories were based usually used a porridge-like substance, which was unlike most modern meals.

Studies suggest that a light meal takes about two to three hours to digest, a medium meal five hours and a heavy meal significantly longer. Emptying depends on factors that include calories and psychological factors.

Steenkamp's stomach contents, as described by Saayman, included vegetable matter and a white cheese-like substance.

Botha said that since a recent Canadian study, the use of gastric emptying as a yardstick to establish time of death had waned considerably.

Textbooks were now warning against using experimental evidence and extrapolating it to forensic evidence.

He said that while one could see "general trends" it was "hazardous" to extrapolate to a specific case.

Pistorius is expected to testify in his defence his week, to explain how, according to him, he accidentally shot dead his girlfriend Steenkamp through the locked toilet door of his home on 14 February last year.

Pistorius has been charged with the murder of Steenkamp and contraventions of the Firearms Control Act. He allegedly fired a shot from a Glock pistol under a table at a Johannesburg restaurant in January 2013.

On 30 September 2012 he allegedly shot through the open sunroof of a car with his 9mm pistol while driving with friends in Modderfontein.


- SAPA
Read more on:    reeva steenkamp  |  oscar pistorius  |  pistorius trial
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