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Pistorius Lawyer Presses Case Police Contaminated Crime Scene

March 18, 2014

Oscar Pistorius

Paralympian gold medalist Oscar Pistorius’ looks on during the afternoon session of the fourth day of his trial for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on March 6, 2014. Photographer; Werner Beukes/AFP via Getty Images

Paralympian gold medalist Oscar Pistorius’s lawyer is pressing his case that police contaminated the scene where he shot dead his model girlfriend, by moving evidence when photographs were taken.

Double-amputee Pistorius, 27, has pleaded not guilty to the charge of murdering Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year, and three separate gun-related charges. He says he thought she was an intruder when he shot her through a toilet cubicle door in his bathroom. The prosecution says he killed Steenkamp after an argument. The case resumes today at the High Court in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital.

Police photographs showed a gun and a cricket bat, used to break down the toilet door after the shooting, and other objects in different positions, defense lawyer Barry Roux said during cross examination of Barend van Staden, the crime-scene photographer. There also seemed to be another photographer at the scene at the time his pictures were taken, he said.

“You could not have missed him. You were in the same passage. Same time, same passage. Just accept it,” Roux said. “Together in the bathroom, in the bedroom, who took photos when you said you were alone.”

At one point, Judge Thokozile Masipa rebuked Roux for apparently ridiculing Van Staden for being unable to tell the difference from the front and back of a cricket bat.

“You cannot argue with the witness,” she said.

The start of the trial yesterday was delayed by more than an hour after Roux requested originals of all the photographs taken at the scene of the shooting. The athlete spoke with family members in the wood-paneled room in the Pretoria city center as Steenkamp’s mother, June, sat in the first row.

Ballistics Expert

The trial adjourned for the day with the prosecution questioning Capt. Christian Mangena, a ballistics expert with 19 years’ experience.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel took Van Staden carefully through his pictures, after Roux sought to discredit previous police witnesses for errors in their investigation. The photos detail blood spatter on the toilet floor, and in the bedroom of Pistorius’s home.

Most of the apparent moving of evidence could be explained by different camera angles for the photographs, he said.

Nel may call more than 100 witnesses including forensic and ballistic experts to testify in the case that started on March 3 and will probably run until at least April 4. Known as the Blade Runner because of his J-shaped prosthetic running blades, Pistorius has been free on 1 million rand ($93,000) bail.

Judge’s Verdict

Masipa will give a final judgment after the trial, which is being broadcast live on radio and TV, because South Africa doesn’t have a jury system.

The prosecution team has sought to portray Pistorius as obsessed with guns and reckless with the weapons. Witnesses testified how he shot through the sunroof of a car and in a Johannesburg restaurant.

The athlete ordered six firearms, including a Smith & Wesson (SWHC:US) 500 revolver and a semi-automatic rifle, Sean Rens, a firearms trainer, told the trial on March 17. The order was canceled about a month after he shot Steenkamp, Rens said.

Pistorius correctly answered questions in a mandatory test that he had a legal right to fire at possible intruders at his home only when he was directly threatened by a weapon, Rens said.

Steenkamp, a model and TV presenter, was shot in the arm, hip and head through a locked wooden door with a 9mm handgun and hollow-point bullets.

The charges have derailed the running career of the winner of six Paralympic gold medals and cost Pistorius sponsorship deals with Nike Inc. (NKE:US) and Luxottica Group SpA’s (LUX) Oakley.

Ossur hf, the Icelandic company that manufactures the blades used by Pistorius, said it may resume ties with the athlete if he’s acquitted of murder charges after announcing last week it had ended severed ties, according to Sveinn Solvason, Ossur’s chief financial officer.

Pistorius was the first double amputee to compete at the Olympics Games in London in 2012.

To contact the reporter on this story: Christopher Spillane in Pretoria at cspillane3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin at asguazzin@bloomberg.net Karl Maier, Gordon Bell


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