Forensics team under fire in court

By Hilda Van Dyk
12 March 2014

A large splinter of wood was missed when forensic analysts were re-assembling the door Oscar Pistorius fired shots through, killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, the High Court in Pretoria heard on Wednesday.

Under cross-examination by Barry Roux, SC, for Pistorius at his murder trial, police forensic analyst Colonel Johannes Vermeulen said at first that he did not know what happened to the missing wood splinters. He was then shown a picture of the door, with a piece of wood, described in court as a splinter, lying on a pile of plastic next to the door in the picture. Roux had led him into the admission that the splinter had been missed by asking him to identify various elements of the photograph of the door taken in a room at police forensics as it was being measured and examined.

'It was between the plastic in the shelves and I did not pay attention to that stuff'

"Oh so there's some pieces...," said Vermeulen.

Roux said, "So you see the pieces of wood?

Vermeulen replied: "It was between the plastic in the shelves and I did not pay attention to that stuff."

The picture he was shown was taken in April 2013.

Roux extracted from him that he also did not notice another mark on the door below the handle.

He said Pistorius would say this was him kicking at the door with his prosthetic legs to break the door to free Steenkamp. This aligns with Oscar’s version of events; that he wasn’t wearing his prosthetics during the shooting and that he ran back to the bedroom to put them on before trying to break down the bathroom door. Vermeulen said it has to be proven that the mark was left by Oscar’s kicking and that he can lift his leg that high. The mark is just below the door handle. But he asked Judge Thokozile Masipa to consider the possibility that Pistorius may have stood on the wood and stumbled as he carried Steenkamp downstairs because it would have been very "deurmekaar" (confusing).

"That mark could have been from him walking over it [the wood with the mark on it]," he said.

He said when the door was brought for examination it was in a body bag and the panels were loose.

Roux has already extracted from Vermeulen that he left his opinion that Pistorius was on his stumps when bashing the door with the bat out of his forensic report.

This was because he did not think it was an issue and the case file was closed. He had also only been asked to make findings on the cricket bat.

Roux ended Wednesday's proceedings by asking him to bring in any cases and findings he had made relating to doors.

Vermeulen said he had not done any cases relating to wooden doors, but that the principles of analysis were the same.

The case was adjourned until 9.30am on Thursday.

After the adjournment the media was allowed to look at the exhibit of the door and a mock up of the toilet cubicle Steenkamp was shot in and quickly flocked forward with cameras and cellphones.

- Hilda Fourie/Sapa

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