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Pistorius Prosecutor Attacks Defense Witness’s Expertise

By Chris Spillane and Andre Janse van Vuuren
April 16, 2014 10:15 AM EDT 42 Comments
South African Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius listens to evidence in the Pretoria High Court on April 15, 2014.
Photographer: Alon Skuy/The Times/Gallo Images/Getty Images
South African Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius listens to evidence in the Pretoria High Court on April 15, 2014.

The prosecution in Oscar Pistorius’s trial for killing his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp challenged the qualifications of the defense’s expert witness who testified about the crime scene.

Roger Dixon, a former police investigator, isn’t trained in blood spatter or sound and never physically touched evidence he gave an opinion on, prosecutor Gerrie Nel said in the High Court in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital, today. Dixon, a university professor of geology, also doesn’t belong to a forensic investigative group, Nel said.

“Take it from me, I’m testing your integrity,” Nel said.

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The first witness after seven days of testimony by Paralympic gold medalist Pistorius told the court that Steenkamp was shot by four bullets in quick succession through a toilet door, contradicting the state’s argument that Pistorius first shot Steenkamp in the hip and then fired three more times after a pause, during which time she screamed.

The double-amputee track star has pleaded not guilty to the premeditated murder of Steenkamp in his home on Valentine’s Day 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.

Cricket Bat

“I view myself as an expert because my testimony has been accepted in court a number of times,” Dixon said 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?”

Defense lawyer Barry Roux started calling witnesses to back the Paralympian’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.

Bashing Door

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, contrary to the state’s argument that he wasn’t wearing the artificial limbs at the time.

Pistorius was excused from the witness box yesterday after Roux asked him about his emotions at the time of the shooting.

“I was terrified, I was afraid for my life, I was scared what could happen to me,” Pistorius said.

The athlete 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.

Black Talon

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.

“Your version is not only untruthful but it is so improbable that it couldn’t have happened,” Nel said in wrapping up his argument. “Who should we blame for the black talon round that ripped through her?,” he said, referring to the make of hollow-point bullet used.

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.

Masipa agreed to a request from Nel for a postponement from tomorrow until May 5 because of a series of holidays in South Africa.

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), 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 reporter on this story: Andre Janse van Vuuren in Pretoria at ajansevanvuu@bloomberg.net

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

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