Doubt cast on Dewani prints

2012-08-22 18:10

Cape Town - Doubt was cast on Wednesday on the police system used to match the palm prints found on the car in which Anni Dewani died, to those of her alleged killer Xolile Mngeni.

Matthews Dayimani, for Mngeni, told the Western Cape High Court it was possible the system could be hacked into, and fingerprints played around with, to give false matches.

He asked the State's third witness on the stand, fingerprint expert Warrant Officer Johan Hannekom, if the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) had any safeguards.

"No, My Lord, I am not an IT expert... I was only trained to scan scene prints onto AFIS. I don't know if there can be a manipulation of prints," Hannekom replied.

The witness, who worked at the criminal records centre, had previously testified that Mngeni was linked to the crime scene through his left palm print.

Dewani was killed in an apparent hijacking while on honeymoon in Cape Town with her husband Shrien, on 13 November 2010.

Mngeni has pleaded not guilty to charges of kidnapping, robbery with aggravating circumstances, murder, and the illegal possession of a firearm and ammunition.

The fingerprint expert said on Tuesday he entered prints lifted off the hijacked car into AFIS and 10 possible criminal profiles were brought up.

A print on the system, taken in 2005, was "a hit" as nine similarities were found. Only seven were needed to confirm a match.

No doubt in his mind

He said that, at the time, he had no doubt in his mind the prints found on the scene belonged to Mngeni.

Dayimani suggested that a skilled person could hack into the system and alter the characteristics of a print to match any other print.

Judge Robert Henney interrupted to ask the witness if he would stick by his finding if AFIS was taken out of the picture.

Hannekom replied: "[Yes]. I would do a manual comparison, My Lord."

He said a manual comparison was done in all cases, and was verified by two other experts. The automated system made the job easier, but was not strictly necessary.

The defence lawyer was adamant the prints did not match his client's.

"I've shown the picture to my client and my instructions are that he never had an injury to his left hand in the manner you depicted."

Hannekom said he was not a medical expert, but believed it was possible that ridges on the palm could grow back after an injury.

"There [are] enough ridge characteristics which are similar on the whole palm [to verify this finding]," the expert said.

The trial continues on Thursday.

  • kvzanten - 2012-08-23 10:13

    Liar. Lawyer.

  • Marcus Steenberg - 2012-08-23 10:13

    Lol, that is his defence? Someone hacked AFIS and inserted his prints into the system? Desperate times I suppose.

      jason.sole.92 - 2012-08-23 10:40

      Not a bad defence, extremely possible but highly unlikely. Finger print dude stubbed him hard with the manual comparison though.

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