Police negligence not the end in ‘battle of door’

2014-03-13 00:00

GROSS police negligence in the Oscar Pistorius investigation is “unforgivable” but it won’t determine who wins the “battle of the door”.

This was the opinion of forensic and legal experts after yesterday’s testimony when the Pretoria high court and the world got its first sight of the much-discussed toilet door through which Pistorius shot Reeva Steenkamp dead.

The wooden door, a key piece of evidence, was set up in the court for forensic investigator Colonel Johannes Vermeulen’s testimony.

First, the state scored a blow when Vermeulen testified that Pistorius must have been on his stumps when he bashed at the door with a cricket bat, contrary to what his statement says.

But under cross-examination, the state was rocked by shock revelations of serious negligence in the handling of the door.

The court heard that there was a policeman’s footprint on the door, that unexplained marks were made on the door after police removed it from the house and that splinters of wood are missing.

Leading independent forensic expert Dr David Klatzow said these “gaffes” were “unforgivable”, but not the death knell of the state’s case. “The negligence of the police is disappointing, but nonetheless, an important part of Vermeulen’s testimony survived cross-examination.”

Johannesburg criminal lawyer Barry Hurter agreed.

“The way the exhibits were handled is alarming, but at this stage it looks bigger than it is. The perception is created that it will be a real disadvantage for the state, but this may not really be the case.”

Klatzow agreed that it is defence advocate Barry Roux’s job to make “mountains out of molehills”.

The real question, Hurter said, was whether Pistorius’s affidavit accords with the objective evidence.

Both said the part of Vermeulen’s testimony that contradicts Pistorius, stands, and he will be seen as an honest, serious expert witness.

During his testimony, Vermeulen swung the cricket bat at the door, pointing out that it could only have made the marks seen on the wood if Pistorius was on his stumps.

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