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New defence witness expected as Pistorius trial resumes

Sapa, AFP

Oscar Pistorius is back in court for Reeva Steenkamp's murder. After ending on a low note last month, his lawyer is expected to call a new witness.

Oscar Pistorius's defence will call a new witness as his trial for the murder of Reeva Steenkamp resumes. (Felix Karlsson, M&G)

A new defence witness is expected to be called when Olympian and Paralympian Oscar Pistorius’s murder trial resumes in the high court in Pretoria on Monday.

The defence will attempt to prove its case that Pistorius thought his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp was an intruder when he shot and killed her in his Pretoria townhouse in February 14 last year. He is accused of murdering her, which the state argues he did during an argument. Pistorius shot four times through the locked door of his toilet, apparently thinking an intruder was about to emerge and attack him. Steenkamp, who was behind the door, was hit in the hip, arm, and head.

But Agence France-Presse reported in April that private forensic pathologist Reggie Perumal – who joined Pistorius’s hand-picked team soon after Steenkamp was killed on Valentine’s Day in 2013 – would not take the stand, amid suggestions his postmortem findings support key parts of the prosecution’s case.

Perumal has appeared in many high-profile cases in South Africa and was hired by Pistorius in time to attend the model’s autopsy. When asked if he would testify, the Durban-based pathologist said, “No ... I think you’re aware that I can’t say anything right now.”

Perumal’s absence from the witness box casts further doubt on the believability of Pistorius’s story, after a week that saw the star and one of his hired experts torn to shreds by prosecutor Gerrie Nel. The last defence witness to be called by Barry Roux, for Pistorius, before the trial was postponed on April 17, was geologist and former police forensics analyst Roger Dixon.

No qualifications
Dixon testified, among other things, about the bullet wounds Steenkamp sustained, marks on the toilet door made when Pistorius kicked it with his prosthetic leg, and when he struck it with his cricket bat to break it open and get to a dying Steenkamp. Nel criticised Dixon for claiming to be an expert in fields he had no qualifications in.

Nel in April criticised evidence presented by Dixon. “You see how irresponsible it is to try and be an expert in area that you’re not?”

He was the third defence witness to testify in Pistorius’s trial.

Dixon, whose evidence-in-chief was led by Roux, seemed to corroborate testimony by Pistorius that he kicked and battered down the door using a cricket bat to get to Steenkamp. Nel criticised him for drawing inferences based on photographs and reports compiled by other experts.

Dixon had not furnished the court with a report on his own findings, but instead referred to notes he had made on sheets of paper. He testified on a recording of gun shots and a cricket bat striking a meranti door, furnished to the court as part of his evidence, although he was not there when the tests were conducted.

No knowledge
During questioning by Nel it emerged that Dixon did not know whether the music producer who recorded the tests had any experience in recording the sounds of explosions or guns. Dixon also knew nothing about the sound equipment used. Although Dixon was not present when the postmortem was conducted on Steenkamp, he testified about the bullet wounds and injuries caused by wooden splinters. He said the bullet that hit her hip caused her to fall backwards. Nel disputed this, saying: “It only happens in the movies.”

He asked Dixon to provide literature on this when he returned to the stand later that week. At one point Nel referred Dixon to a page in the post mortem report pathologist Professor Gert Saayman conducted on Steenkamp. According to Saayman’s report, bruises on Steenkamp’s buttock were caused by bullet fragments. Dixon however told the court that the bruising occurred when Steenkamp fell against a wooden magazine rack in the toilet cubicle.

“You looked surprised. You never saw that?” Nel asked Dixon. “You, Mr Dixon, just made an inference without reading the document ... The most irresponsible thing is you refer to a document and don’t ever read the full report.”

Dixon admitted he was neither an expert in blood spatters nor ballistics, despite having testified on this for the defence.

Saayman and ballistics expert Captain Christian Mangena were both in court. Mangena at times seemed amused by Dixon’s testimony.

The trial began on March 3.

Pistorius is also charged with three alleged contraventions of the Firearms Control Act – one of illegal possession of ammunition, and two of discharging a firearm in public. – Sapa, AFP

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