State, Oscar defence go head to head

2014-03-12 13:31
Screengrab of Lieutenant Colonel Johannes Vermeulen demonstrating how he would have struck the toilet door through which Oscar Pistorius shot Reeva Steenkamp.

Screengrab of Lieutenant Colonel Johannes Vermeulen demonstrating how he would have struck the toilet door through which Oscar Pistorius shot Reeva Steenkamp.

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Oscar's trial day 8 - lunchtime report

2014-03-12 13:57

The toilet door of Oscar Pistorius’s home took centre stage in court, as a forensic investigator began to give evidence at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria. Watch. WATCH

Pretoria - It was American Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan who made popular the maxim that one is entitled to one’s one opinion, but not to one’s own facts.

But Advocate Barry Roux might test this idea to its limits.

On Wednesday morning, the Colonel Johannes Vermeulen, a forensic investigator, began to give his testimony.

He examined the cricket bat that Oscar Pistorius used to bash down the door behind which he had shot and killed Reeva Steenkamp in February last year.

Both the door and the bat were in court.

It is not contested that Pistorius shot and killed Steenkamp.

It is not contested that he did so through a closed door. None of the props, or pieces of evidence, are disputed.

And yet the defence has found so much to question in the way that the State has gone about its investigation.

In such cases, the interpretation of the facts, or the opinions and inferences that one draws, become the facts themselves.

What can be is debated fiercely, as the court will use deduction and inference to draw a conclusion about what is most likely to have been.

Of course, even in cases where little material evidence is disputed, the police and the prosecutors still have to present a case.

This is essentially what Vermeulen is doing in the witness stand. He still has to say that the accused stood here, and did this with that.

It is not unreasonable to assume that it will find fault with both the State’s interpretation of evidence, and the manner it went about the investigation.


According to Vermeulen’s testimony, Pistorius was most likely on his stumps when he whacked at the door.

He demonstrated a few times using the bat and said that the marks on both props were consistent with his findings.

The investigator went on his knees, and then on his feet, to demonstrate that the latter position could not have “naturally” achieved the marks on the props.

It is interesting to note that in Pistorius’s own affidavit, he indicates that he wasn’t on his stumps when he shot through the door.

“I went into the bedroom and grabbed my cricket bat to bash open the toilet door. I put on my prosthetic legs and ran back to the bathroom and tried to kick the door open,” he wrote.

To be honest, it is becoming difficult to follow the trains of thought here, as to what proves which version of events.

 It could become vitally important that Pistorius was on his prosthetics when he fired the gun and when he struck the door, since he claims that it was the extra vulnerability due to his disability that caused him to fire through a closed door without being certain of who was on the other side.

It could help the State to disrupt his story by showing that he’s lying about when he put his legs on.

It could mean very little in the end. Roux doesn’t seem to think so. He says that this “new” evidence about Pistorius’s position is an indication that the State is ambushing his client. This can inform his claim that this entire case is “manufactured”.

Mysterious marks  

But the most troubling aspect of the colonel’s testimony was when he revealed that not only were some marks mysteriously made on the door after the fact, when it was in the hands of the police investigators, but some pieces of evidence went missing.

He couldn’t account for this, or why he didn’t go looking for them.

There have been several cases which have been dismissed on the basis of dockets and evidence that went missing during the investigation.

This is perhaps the State’s great weakness in this case – it may become impermissible at a later stage to show intent on Pistorius’s part, because evidence that points to that was handled incorrectly.

The first investigator Hilton Botha was torn apart during the bail application process a year ago because he demonstrated incompetence.

He testified that he wasn’t wearing the full, protective gear as he should have, and even missed some pieces of evidence that could still be found at the scene some days later.

But the State will still be able to re-examine Vermeulen and any other police officers it calls.

Nothing can be said to be very clear at the moment.

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

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