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SAPS gives Pistorius's defence the lead

Niren Tolsi

The SAPS's apparently shoddy detective work has been exposed by Oscar Pistorius's defence team in the second day of his bail hearing.

Oscar Pistorius. (AFP)

The South African Police Service's apparently shoddy detective work was exposed on Wednesday, swinging day two of Oscar Pistorius’s bail application hearing for premeditated murder the way of the Paralympian and his defence team.

At the Pretoria Magistrate's Court advocate Barry Roux, representing Pistorius, laid bare facts including that the police’s forensics team had failed to find a bullet in the toilet of his master bedroom – which was found later by the defence’s own investigators.

It was in the toilet, behind a locked door, that the state alleged Pistorius’s girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp was cowering when the 26-year-old athlete fired the shots that killed her.

According to state witness and investigating officer Hilton Botha, Steenkamp’s body had bullet wounds to the right side of the head below the ear, in the right elbow, which “broke her arm”, and a wound in the right side of her hip.

Roux, however, raised questions about the police’s methodology after confirming with Botha that the police officer walked without protective shoes through the crime scene, thus “contaminating” it.

He also questioned police evidence that neither of the two iPhones recovered near the nine-millimetre pistol in the bathroom had been used that morning to make SOS calls to paramedics. Roux pointed to the fact that police had not enquired about the existence of another cellphone that might have been used, to suggest that they were being prejudiced in their investigation.

However advocate Gerrie Nel, representing the state, when questioning Botha later in the day, confirmed that neither Pistorius nor his lawyer, who had been present that morning, had offered information about the existence of a third phone from which calls would have been made.

Roux was adamant during his cross-examination that police appeared intent on disregarding evidence that would have pointed to the “spontaneous” nature of Pistorius’s actions in the early hours of Valentine's Day last week, or that the evidence before them, did actually fit into Pistorius’s version of events.

Brutal interrogation
In what was a brutal interrogation that left Botha flustered and unravelling during his testimony, Roux also noted that “it seems that an approach was adopted [by the police] to discard anything that may be consistent with the defence’s” version of events. Something Botha denied.

But this did not stop Roux from attempting to blow holes in the state's case and the inferences it had hoped to draw from witness statements and preliminary police work done so far – which Roux went to lengths to paint as both inept and part of a broader attempt at “malicious prosecution”.

Roux got Botha to admit that police had not done a “visibility test” in the bedroom, which his investigators had confirmed was “pitch dark when the blinds and curtains were drawn" – as Pistorius had indicated in affidavit, filed with the court on Tuesday.

Botha, who is still waiting on ballistic and forensic reports, was also left back-pedalling on the distances between Pistorius’s house in the plush Silver Lakes Golf Estate in Pretoria East, and that of the homes of two neighbours who had told police they had heard screams and gunshots in the early hours of the morning. Botha had estimated the distances of around 600-metres, before later backtracking, when questioned by Nel, to suggest that it was closer to 300-metres.

While being questioned by Nel during the morning session, Botha had said that one of the state’s witnesses had heard arguing between 2am-3am on February 14. According to Botha the witness then heard a gunshot, went onto his balcony where he saw the lights switched on in Pistorius’s bedroom – contrary to the “Blade Runner’s” testimony that his room was in darkness – then went back inside and subsequently heard “a female screaming two to three times and then another couple of shots".

However, later, under cross-examination, Botha confirmed that witnesses had apparently heard more gunshots than the police could account for.

Flight risk
Botha had also stated that bail be denied to Pistorius because he posed a flight risk as he owned property in Italy and operated an offshore account. However Roux was categorical that no such property existed and that the offshore account was a commercial one, form which no money could be withdrawn.

Earlier the state had also attempted to portray Pistorius as a reckless individual with a taste for guns and aggressive behaviour. Botha had noted an incident last month at a restaurant in Melrose Arch in Johannesburg when Pistorius had let off a firearm and then asked the owner of the gun “to take the rap for him and that person did”.

Nel pursued the line of an untouchable celebrity asking: “He allowed somebody else to take the blame?” To which Botha replied “correct". 

However, later, Roux had stated to the court that the gun had actually gone off while it was being passed under the table to Pistorius.

Another incident involving a male individual at Kyalami racecourse, apparently over a girl, ended, according to Botha, when Pistorius “got so enraged with that person that he told him he would fuck him up".

Judgment in the bail hearing is expected on Thursday.


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