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Dirk Olivier
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Oscar: Shots or bat first?

23 April 2014, 08:31

I am surprised that the state has not yet try to explain the scenario of the two sets of sounds heard by the Stipp’s. These are facts, since the door has been damaged by the bat and the shots have been fired. One presumes that the one set of sounds was from the shots and the other from the cricket bat hitting the door, but which came first? The defence claims the shots were first and then later followed by the bat. If this is correct then the screams heard by the state witnesses from just after 03h00 to about 03h17 when the screams stopped, must have been from Oscar. On the other hand, if the first sounds were from the cricket bat and those from the shots were at 03h17, then it is most likely that the screams were those of Reeva. For me this is the crux of the case and it has not really been explored by the state, although they have manage to show how unlikely Oscar’s version of the events is with regards to him not noticing Reeva going to the toilet and her keeping quite during the whole ordeal by not responding to his screaming and shouting. Maybe the state will provide us with a scenario to explain the sequence of events during their closing arguments whilst the defence still has most of their expert witnesses to try and proof its scenario during their upcoming testimony.

Witnesses from both the state (Col Vermeulen) and the defence (Mr Dixon) testified that the shots were fired first followed by the cricket bat damage to the door. This whole issue was not explored by the state at all, and the defence to date only briefly addressed it once or twice. From what I gather from both Vermeulen’s and Dixon’s testimony was that they used shot D and a crack in the door close to the shot to reach their conclusion. I must admit their reasoning for coming to this conclusion was not very convincing. But, suppose this is true then, the state’s case will take a severe knock, because then all the states witnesses were wrong regarding the screams of a woman and the sounds of the shots fired at 03h17. 

The defence have put quite a lot of emphasis on the sound recordings of a cricket bat against the door and shots fired, presented by Mr Dixon during his testimony. Although, one could distinguish between the two, it must be granted that somebody could easily mistake the cricket bat sounds for gun fire when listening to the recording. However, I believe the recordings can be very misleading. I have made a crude replication of this test by recording at a distance of 25m on my cell phone a door that I slammed closed very hard and a firecracker. On the recording they sounded very similar, although the firecracker was slightly louder. The distinction between the two sounds was very similar to that of the recording played in the court. In reality with the human ear there was a huge difference between the two sounds. Nobody would have confused the slamming door with the firecracker.

I just also want to point out a very basic physics error in Mr Dixon’s evidence. It seems that he misunderstood  the parallax error caused by him taking photographs from the street level of the model on his knees. He gave an erroneous explanation claiming that one would be able to see more of the model from the street level. Dr Stipp observed the bathroom window from the first floor which is about 3m higher than the street. Mr Pistorius’s height on his stumps was given as 1.55m. Using the following data and assumptions one can calculate the difference in view that Dr Stipp would have had from that of Mr Dixon.

Height of bathroom window sill from floor =1.1m (measured by Mr Dixon), height of both Dr Stipp and Mr Dixon = 1.8m (assumptions, eye level about 1.7m), Mr Dixon’s street photograph was taken at a distance of about 60m (Mr Dixon did not measure the distance) and the Stipp’s balcony is another 12m further back and 3 m above street level. Then, if Mr Pistorius was standing 2m away from the window inside the bathroom, Dr Stipp vantage point is 3+1.7 = 4.7m and that of Mr Dixon = 1.7m with the bathroom window sill at 3 + 1.1 = 4.1m. It can then easily be calculated that Dr Stipp would be able to see 1.55m - 1,1m + 0.017m (parallax component) = 46.7cm of Mr Pistorius’s body from the head downwards. On the other hand Mr Dixon would only be able to see 1.55 -1.1 - 0.137 (parallax component) = 31.3cm.  Mr Dixon also used a model that on his knees seem to be 20 cm shorter than Mr Pistorius on his stumps. It almost seems that the defence was wilfully trying to mislead the court.  Although the state picked this up, I was a little surprised that they did not explore the parallax error in more detail, especially in the light of all the attempts from both defence and the prosecution to discredit the witnesses.

For those readers that are interested in calculations, here are a few more. The relevant data for the shots as stated by the state ballistics expert (Capt Mangena) was: Height of shots through the door A (93.5cm), B(104.3cm), C(99.4cm) and D(97.3cm). The shot that missed hit the toilet wall at a height of 89cm and it ricocheted to hit the wall again at 87.5cm. Reeva was hit in the hip at a height of 93cm (92cm was stated by Prof Saayman). The ballistic expert’s conclusions were that A=hip shot, B=missed shot, C=arm shot, D=head shot. Some of the data was gathered from the court case on TV when the ballistics expert testified and the rest was obtained from evidence provided during cross-examination  from other expert witnesses. The calculations confirmed the ballistics expert 's main conclusions that the shot at height 93 cm (shot A) was the shot that hit Reeva in the hip and that it must have been the first shot. The second shot (B) missed her and it the back corner of the toilet cubicle. Also, it is most likely that Oscar was indeed on his stumps. From the data and photographs one can calculate how far Reeva was standing behind the door and also the horizontal floor angle (that was about 35 degrees) from where the first shot was fired. She must have been standing close behind the door (at a slight angle) with her right hip between 4.5 and 13cm from the door. The calculations using shot A as the hip shot yields 4.5 cm if she was hit at a height of 93cm (Capt Mangena’s testimony) or 13 cm if the hip shot was at a height of 92cm (Prof Saayman’s testimony). These calculations uses a shot vertical downwards shot angle of about 5.5 degrees. The ballistics expert measured these angles to be between of 5-6 degrees.  The photographs of the bullet trajectories confirmed the ballistics expert 's main conclusions that the shot at height 93 cm (shot A) was the shot that hit Reeva in the hip and that shot B was the missed shot that hit the wall of the toilet cubicle. It also confirms claims by the pathologist of the defence, Dr Botha and Mr Dixon, that there were wooden splinters found in the hip and arm wounds, which suggests that she was close to the door. Also, it is most likely that Oscar was indeed on his stumps, except if he shot cowboy style, from the hip with an elbow angle of 90 degrees (in this case his height is calculated at 176cm, slightly shorter than the 184cm when he has his prosthesis on).

As far as the head wound is concerned there seems to be agreement between the state and the defence that it was caused by shot D and the Reeva was at that stage towards the back of the toilet cubicle in a sitting or falling position. This is confirmed by the calculations and most likely she was not sitting on the magazine rack but with her buttocks on the floor. The calculations show that the height of the head wound could have been at 88cm from the floor. Sitting on the magazine rack would have made the head much higher which then cannot correspond to the shot angles and shot heights in the door. If you are interested in doing your own calculations you can download for free the computer code I wrote from There are also a few relevant pictures contained in the code and input files for the hip and head shots.
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