Oscar trial: Expert questions state's evidence

Athlete Oscar Pistorius. (Reuters)

Athlete Oscar Pistorius. (Reuters)

Ballistics expert Thomas “Wollie” Wolmarans highlighted differences between his conclusions and those of the state in the high court in Pretoria on Friday.

He was testifying in defence of Paralympian Oscar Pistorius, who has been charged with murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Pistorius shot her dead through a locked toilet door in his Pretoria home on February 14 last year. He has denied guilt, saying he mistook her for an intruder.

On Friday, Wolmarans sought to dispel earlier assertions by the state suggesting Steenkamp was in a cowering position when she was shot.

Wolmarans disputed the evidence of police ballistics expert Captain Chris Mangena, who was also in court. Former policeman Wolmarans said he did not believe Reeva was covering her head with her left hand when she was shot in the head, as submitted by Mangena. Wolmarans said brain matter found on the wall and floor was not evident on Reeva’s left hand.

He also testified that he found a fragment of a bullet in Pistorius’s toilet bowl, missed by investigators who had already searched the crime scene, and handed it to police. He said an accurate determination of the sequence of the shots or Steenkamp’s body position when she was shot was not possible.

Wolmarans told the court that Steenkamp could not have been sitting on the toilet seat when the shots were fired. “The deceased was not sitting on the toilet seat. Her pants were pulled up and the shot was fired through her pants,” said Wolmarans.

During cross-examination by prosecutor Gerrie Nel, there was debate on the different spots hit by the bullets fired by Pistorius. The bullet holes have been marked A to D on the door of a toilet cubicle model that has been set up in court. Lasers were used by both ballistics experts to match the bullets and the spots they hit on Steenkamp’s body and on the wall. Wolmarans argued on Friday that Mangena did not take into account a possibility of the bullets deflecting as they penetrated the door.

Nel said Mangena had managed to link the hole caused by bullet B to a spot marked E on the wall inside the toilet. Wolmarans said E came “very close” but not quite. He repeatedly said it would be difficult to ascertain Steenkamp’s actual position in the toilet when the shots were fired. He said another expert could give the court a different version of probable events.

Pistorius is also charged with three contraventions of the Firearms Control Act – one of illegal possession of ammunition and two of discharging a firearm in public. He has denied guilt on all charges. 

Cross-examination of Wolmarans continues on Monday. – Sapa

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