An expert witness for the defense of Oscar Pistorius in the Paralympic athlete’s trial for the killing of his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp found himself fighting to preserve his own reputation.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel repeatedly challenged former police investigator Roger Dixon about his qualifications to testify about the crime scene. He isn’t trained in blood spatter or sound and never physically touched evidence he gave an opinion on, Nel said. Dixon, a professor of geology, also doesn’t belong to a forensic investigative group, the prosecutor said.
On his Facebook Inc. page, Dixon posted before today’s testimony: “Third day in court today. Let’s see how much of my credibility, integrity and professional reputation is destroyed. It is difficult to get belief in those who will not listen because it is not what they want to hear. After that, beer!”
When asked during a break in the trial if the post was legitimate, Dixon told three reporters: “yes, it’s genuine.” The post is no longer on his Facebook account.
During testimony today about visibility in the house when Pistorius shot Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year, Dixon said that he carried out tests with the balcony light off. When asked by Nel if he knew that Pistorius has testified that the balcony light was on at the time of the shooting, Dixon said he wasn’t aware of that fact.
Dixon also contradicted Pistorius’s version of the way Steenkamp had fallen after being shot.
The double-amputee Paralympic gold medalist has pleaded not guilty to the premeditated murder of Steenkamp in his home on Feb. 14 last year. Pistorius says he thought she was a burglar in his bathroom, while the prosecution argued the athlete killed her following an argument in the early hours of the morning.
The trial, which started on March 3, is being broadcast live on radio and TV. Proceedings were adjourned until May 5 because of a series of holidays in South Africa.
Judge Thokozile Masipa, who will give the final judgment in the case because South Africa doesn’t have a jury system, could consider a lesser charge of culpable homicide if she rules that the act wasn’t premeditated. Pistorius would face a minimum of 25 years in jail if convicted of premeditated murder.
Defense lawyer Barry Roux started calling witnesses to back the athlete’s testimony that he feared for his life when he shot through the toilet cubicle door and that he didn’t know Steenkamp was not in the bed at the time because the room was too dark.
“I view myself as an expert because my testimony has been accepted in court a number of times,” Dixon said yesterday when Nel asked him if he considered himself qualified to give expert testimony in the trial. Dixon said he used his eyes as the instrument to measure how dark Pistorius’s bedroom was at night when the curtains were closed.
Dixon said while he isn’t a forensic pathologist or involved in ballistics, his “layman’s understanding” is if a bullet missed Steenkamp, as the prosecution argued, it would have broken up into more pieces and created different injuries.
“Now, Mr. Dixon, you call yourself a layman?” Nel said. “You gave the evidence, you were strong about it. Do you know how irresponsible it is to make inferences in areas where you’re not an expert?”
Dixon said the sound of a cricket bat hitting a door was similar to gunshots, and questioned the state’s argument that Steenkamp was facing the door when she was shot.
The defense says gunshots neighbors testified they heard were the noise of Pistorius bashing down the door to get to Steenkamp’s body after he realized that it was his girlfriend he had shot.
Damage to the door from blows from the bat were consistent with him wearing his prosthetic legs, according to the defense. That’s contrary to the state’s argument that he wasn’t wearing the artificial limbs at the time.
Pistorius has said he wasn’t aiming at anything in particular and didn’t mean to kill anyone. He wasn’t thinking rationally before or after the shooting, Pistorius said.
Nel has sought to undermine the defense’s portrayal of Pistorius as a religious man with a deep fear of crime who was in a loving relationship with Steenkamp. He accused Pistorius of tailoring his testimony to fit in with the evidence.
Known as the Blade Runner because of his J-shaped prosthetic running blades, Pistorius has been free on 1 million rand ($96,000) bail since February last year.
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), Luxottica Group SpA (LUX)’s Oakley and Ossur hf, the Icelandic company that manufacturers the blades he uses.
Pistorius was the first double amputee to compete at the Olympic Games in London in 2012.
To contact the reporters on this story: Renee Bonorchis in Johannesburg at firstname.lastname@example.org; Christopher Spillane in Johannesburg at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin at firstname.lastname@example.org Karl Maier, Gordon Bell