A FORENSIC analyst has demonstrated in court how athlete Oscar Pistorius may have bashed a cricket bat on the door of his toilet to get to the girlfriend he had just fatally shot.
JG Vermeulen said he believed the double amputee was on his stumps when he swung his bat at the cubicle door, and the expert witness got down on his knees to demonstrate to the courtroom using a cricket bat and a mock bathroom door.
But the athlete’s defence team, cross-examining the policeman, insisted that Pistorius, 27, was wearing his prosthetic legs when hitting the door and the marks from the bat were lower down because the athlete swung with a bent back.
The intricate argument over whether Pistorius was on his prosthetic limbs or not is important because it could match parts of his story that he accidentally shot Reeva Steenkamp. It could also show that he is lying.
The athlete has said he fearfully approached the bathroom on his stumps on 14 February last year and shot Ms Steenkamp by mistake, thinking she was an intruder hiding behind the door.
According to his account, he then put on his prosthetic limbs and tried to kick down the locked toilet door, and battered it with a cricket bat to get to his girlfriend after realising what he had done.
Prosecutors maintain he intentionally shot the 29-year-old model and have charged him with murder. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him, which also include three firearm-related counts.
The actual door the sportsman shot through was erected in the Pretoria courtroom yesterday. The bat he wielded was also used in the dramatic demonstration.
The door had what appeared to be white tags on it and four bullet holes were clearly visible. Pistorius shot at Ms Steenkamp four times through the door, hitting her in the hip, arm and head. One shot missed, the court has heard.
Mr Vermeulen said he believed Pistorius was on his stumps – contradicting what the athlete says – when he hit the door with the bat.
“The marks are consistent with him being in a natural position without his prostheses,” Mr Vermeulen said.
The police analyst was repeatedly asked by both the prosecution and defence to demonstrate his assertions by swinging the bat at the door.
“It’s quite low down on the door,” Mr Vermeulen testified about one of the marks he said were made by the bat. He said it was “not the normal position I would expect from a mark from a cricket bat”.
Defence lawyer Barry Roux said Pistorius could have hit the door with a “bent back” and that the low marks were consistent with such a body position.
He also made it clear the prosecution had now retracted initial claims that Pistorius was on his prosthetic limbs when he fired the shots that killed Ms Steenkamp. It is now accepted, Mr Vermeulen said, that he was probably on his stumps.
That mistaken claim by prosecutors in the early part of the investigation was used by them to argue there was premeditation in the killing because they believed the disabled runner planned the killing while putting his prosthetic limbs on.
Earlier, Mr Vermeulen said a metal panel on the wall of the bathroom in Pistorius’s home had been damaged by being hit with a “hard” object, or after the object fell against it. The steel plate was new evidence. A photo of the plate was shown.
Pistorius faces a possible life sentence if convicted of murder. The trial continues.
FIVE THINGS WE NOW KNOW
SHOOTING ON STUMPS
Lead prosecutor Gerrie Nel said yesterday it was no longer part of the state’s case that Oscar Pistorius was wearing his prosthetic limbs when he shot Reeva Steenkamp. Pistorius always claimed he was on his stumps.
SHOTS BEFORE BAT
Forensic analyst JG Vermeulen indicated that the shots that killed Steenkamp were probably fired before the door was bashed in by a cricket bat. Again, this matches part of Pistorius’s story.
BAT STORY CHALLENGED
Prosecutors did challenge Pistorius’s claim that he was wearing prosthetic limbs when he hit the door with the bat after shooting Steenkamp. Vermeulen pointed out bat marks low on the door which he said suggested that Pistorius was on his stumps.
Lead defence lawyer Barry Roux has criticised the police department’s forensic investigation, saying they missed a sock fabric in the door which was consistent with Pistorius’s story.
METAL PANEL SURPRISE
Prosecutors showed a photo of a metal panel on Pistorius’s bathroom wall that had been bashed in. They contend there was a fight between Pistorius and Steenkamp.