Pistorius Trial: Crime Scene Evidence Problems

It was a dramatic day 8 at the Oscar Pistorius trial. The investigator who took over the case from the Hilton Botha, Colonel Vermulon, testified about the physical evidence. There are some serious problems.

Both sides now agree Oscar was on his stumps when he shot through the door, and after that, he used a cricket bat to bash in the door. Here's the rub: The state, which claimed at the bail hearing Oscar had his prostheses on when he shot at the door, now says he didn't have them on at either time: when he shot through the door or used the cricket bat. The defense says Oscar put them after shooting at the door and had them on when he used the bat.

In Oscar's bail affidavit, he says he shot through the door while on his stumps, then "I put on my prosthetic legs, ran back to the bathroom and tried to kick the toilet door open."[More...]

From reporters' live tweets at the trial:

A toilet and door were brought into court for demonstration. The police never had the door examined to determine whether marks on it could be from Oscar's prosthesis kicking in the door as he claims. At first the investigator testified there was no evidence that he kicked the door except for his version of events, then admitted it was possible. Police had the prosthetic legs and the door, yet it never asked a toolmarks examiner to do any tests to determine if the door could have been kicked down with a prosthetic leg. .

If the marks on the door did come from the prosthetic leg, it backs up Oscar's claim he was wearing them when he used the cricket bat. The defense said it had tests conducted on the blade from the prosthesis, the door and Oscar's sock (some of which was embedded in the door)and they all match. Also, Oscar's lawyer said their tests show there is varnish from the door on the prosthesis.

There were pieces of wood from the door right there on Feb. 14 but the investigator (who didn't take over the case until March) says he didn't see them. "This is the first time I've seen these pictures. This is the first time I've seen these splinters, these pieces of wood."

Also, photos taken at the scene on Feb. 14 showed police footprints on the door that since have been removed. Defense lawyer Barry Roux says police walked over the door (i.e. they trampled on the evidence.)

The investigator acknowledged that while the door was in the safekeeping of the forensics unit, it somehow happened to get serious marks on it which did not exist on March 8 when it was taken back to Oscar's house (in a body bag.) He can't explain the marks. He said the door should have been under lock and key with only controlled access. He acknowledged the door was not in the same condition on Feb. 14 and when he got it in March.

A photo Roux presented that was taken at the crime scene on Feb. 14 shows police shoe prints on a panel of the door, near the bullet holes. The bullet holes were below the door handle. Here's the photo of the bullet holes.

Another comment that may come back to bite the investigator: He was asked why, when first learning of Oscar's version of events, which he said was last week, he didn't ask for tests to be done on the door. He said by that time he had already closed his investigation and "I'm not going to bother with his version."

Tweet from BBC reporter Andrew Harding at the end of the day:

Day 8 ends and I'd say the prosecution still hasn't convincingly shown that ##OscarPistorius version of events that night MUST be false.

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    This case (5.00 / 1) (#12)
    by Mr Natural on Thu Mar 13, 2014 at 03:49:32 PM EST
    reminds me of the Virginia man who hatchet murdered his mother-in-law in his garage, then attempted to claim he'd been sleepwalking and in a sleepy fog had thought she was a raccoon.  That was after his wife attempted to take the blame, of course.

    We reserve judgement, but the real question isn't whether he's guilty.  It is whether or how Pistorius' defense attorney can get him off.

    Quite Right! (5.00 / 1) (#13)
    by Rumpole on Thu Mar 13, 2014 at 06:30:35 PM EST
    There is only ONE REALITY.
     Either OP shot the door knowing Reeva was behind it or he genuinely thought there was an intruder behind the door. frankly I am still 50/50 on believing him. So the State have failed so far to convince me beyoud reasonable doubt that he is lying in his claim of self defence. But if that stands and  the Judge sees it that way too... then OP walks (springs). I think on all lesser included charges too, but at the very least on the Murder Charge.
     I am very impressed with Roux...he is quite brilliant, I think, despite his style making for frustrating trial watching at times. However it is not just a matter of him "getting his client off"... so far the State have not presented much evidence at all that addresses the question "Is OP lying, or did he genuinely believe there was an intruder about to do him harm behind the toilet door.
     On the other hand, I have not warmed to Nel at all, he seems bumbling and not quite prepared at times. He presents the witness and main testimony Ok... only to have Roux knock holes in it, yet he gdoes not push back much. Maybe the witnesses and evidence he has are simply not sufficient to make his case. I again wonder if this case has been over-charged? Who ultimately decided on the charges? Such things are usually not simply a decision by one prosecutor.. there is usually a back-story :)

    some doubt by asking questions for which a good answer is difficult to provide, than to have a good answer ready for every possible question that could be asked.

    One of my questions is how did OP know exactly where to aim his gun?

    3 hits out of 4 blind shots through a closed door is pretty darn accurate, even after taking into account how small the WC was.

    How do you think (none / 0) (#2)
    by jbindc on Wed Mar 12, 2014 at 03:52:17 PM EST
    they get around the fact that OP said they were in bed early, but the autopsy showed that Reeva had eaten around 1:30 am?

    How do you think the (not believable, IMO) idea that OP said had no idea Reeva wasn't in bed, and his first reaction was not to ascertain who was in the bathroom, but to attack and shoot first?


    If there was an intruder (none / 0) (#3)
    by Rumpole on Wed Mar 12, 2014 at 04:56:04 PM EST
    Pistorius would no be criticised for his good marksmanship. In fact he would likely be praised, and I doubt any charges would have been laid.. not even for manslaughter or the equivalent in SA.

     Which brings me to the point that, since OP is in effect claiming "Self Defence" (albeit mistaken) and if that is accepted (not disproved) then should he be found guilty of manslaughter? I don't think he would if there had been an intruder. If you accept his version then you are accepting that he was reasonable in assuming it was an intruder.


    I won't critisize him for his marksmanship, (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by leftwig on Thu Mar 13, 2014 at 08:06:37 AM EST
    but I am interested in the ballistics report as far as how close he was to the door when he fired and at what angle (left/right, up/down).  

    As for what else he might be guilty of if not murder, I don't see how he is not guilty of culpable negligence in Reeva's death.  I am not sure what levels of manslaughter RSA has, but OP is admitting to having no idea who was behind the door, nor doing anything to see if it was the person who was staying in his house.  I would think in order to be relieved of culpable negligence, he would have the burden of proof to show a reasonable person would have been more likely than not to believe it was an intruder and not an innocent person behind the door.  I would say its quite clear OP didn't take any precautions that a reasonable person should have in order to ensure that was the case.

    The investigation work leaves something to be desired, but I really don't see the relevance to the question of whether OP kicked the door or not.  One question to this end, did OP give any statement to police that evening?  I've seen his official statement but I don't believe that was produced until the bail hearing.  Did he say anything to police prior to that statement?


    He is not admitting (none / 0) (#5)
    by Rumpole on Thu Mar 13, 2014 at 08:50:41 AM EST
    "...to having no idea who was behind the door..."

    He is claiming that he was convinced there was an intruder behind the door. That is quite different.

    His defence is "self defence" ... He shot at an intruder while in fear for his life and his girlfriends life. Obviously he was wrong as it turned out. The defence is that "an intruder" was a reasonable assumption for him to make. It seems to me that the prosecution could have argued that that assumption by him was NOT reasonable, but that is not what they are doing. They have opted to charge murder and not manslaughter. They are not arguing that OP's assumption of an intruder was reckless etc. They are arguing that he is lying and that he knew Reeva was behind the door and shot her intentionally.
    I do not know, but it seems to me that if the Judge decides he was not lying and that he genuinely thought he was firing in self defence, then it could seen as a situation equivalent to if an intruder had been there. In that case I think OP would not be found guilty of manslaughter either.


    What he thought and what he knew are two (none / 0) (#6)
    by leftwig on Thu Mar 13, 2014 at 09:15:14 AM EST
    different things.  Since Reeva was the one behind the door, he has two options.  Either, he had no idea who was behind the door or he knew it was Reeva.  I can understand him being able to use the defense of I didn't know it was her in showing reasonable doubt against the prosecutions case for premeditated murder, but I believe the burden of overcoming culpable negligence falls on him.  There was no evidence of a break in.  There was no attempt to warn or verify Reeva's whereabouts.  To any reasonable person, the most likely person behind the closed WC door was Reeva and he made no attempt to confirm whether it was her behind the door or not.  

    I'll allow a lawyer to do the speaking to burden of proof based on the law, but I do not believe they are the same for both charges.  I also believe that even though premeditated murder is what the prosecution is arguing, the lesser charge of manslaughter (I believe they call it culpable homicide) can be considered by the judge.


    Just wanted to clarify the last point in the (none / 0) (#7)
    by leftwig on Thu Mar 13, 2014 at 10:11:22 AM EST
    previous post.  I assume the "beyond a reasonable doubt" burden does still apply to any charge brought, but in the murder charge, the prosecution has to prove that OP knew it was Reeva behind the door.  That burden doesn't exist in a culpable negligence charge.  Their burden would be more along the lines of showing that OP didn't take reasonable precautions to ensure that it wasn't her in the WC.  

    Does the layout of the bedroom / bath (none / 0) (#8)
    by jbindc on Thu Mar 13, 2014 at 10:44:37 AM EST
    help him or hurt him?

    Looking at the diagram in this article, Pistorius said he was on the balcony on the far right of the room when he heard a sound, so he picked up the gun he kept near his bed.  I assume the gun would have been kept on the right side of the bed, since that's where he slept.

    He has to go around the bed and walk seven meters to get to the bathroom, and then go in and around the wall and sinks to get to the WC where RS was.  In all that time and across all that distance - he didn't once notice she wasn't in bed (even though he had to pass the bed to get to the bath), he never tried to find out if she was safe or even where she was?

    Do you think this could be a real pinch for the defense?


    I agree Jb, that is my biggest hurdle (5.00 / 2) (#14)
    by vml68 on Thu Mar 13, 2014 at 09:11:20 PM EST
    in believing Pistorius' story.

    I would think that if you believe there is an intruder in the house, the first thing you would do is make sure your loved one is ok/safe before leaving them to look for intruders.

    If he thought she was still sleeping, why didn't he wake her up so that she could be aware of what was going on. That way if he was overpowered by the "intruder", she would be ready to escape or defend herself.

    This story just does not make sense to me.


    I agree (none / 0) (#9)
    by Rumpole on Thu Mar 13, 2014 at 12:54:40 PM EST
    that there is a lot that could have be presented to address OP's assumption that it was an intruder, but the point I am trying to make is that the Prosecution are not (can not) address that because they assert that OP did not make that assumption at all.
    It seems obvious to me that in order for the State to argue that OP was wrong in jumping to the intruder conclusion the State would first have to admit that he did that.... and they don't. They can't unless they abandon their claim that OP just made that story up after the fact.
    I am saying that (perhaps) the State over-charged They can not argue the case that it was manslaughter without abandoning "it was murder". Perhaps that is a gamble they consider worth taking?

    I actually see it the opposite. The state can (none / 0) (#10)
    by leftwig on Thu Mar 13, 2014 at 01:46:16 PM EST
    argue both (one way to seek murder and the other for culpable negligence).  Its the defense that can't swap stories.  He potentially gets off on murder charges by claiming he thought it was an intruder and uses plausible deniability by saying he didn't check on or see Reeva prior to going into the bathroom and shooting through the WC door so he had no idea it was her.  Its that defense that convicts him on culpable negligence because he had every chance and responsibility to verify that it wasn't Reeva in the WC.  

    If that is true (none / 0) (#11)
    by Rumpole on Thu Mar 13, 2014 at 03:11:19 PM EST
    then the State have no started that bit yet?

    There has been no mention it.

    The State is arguing that there was no intruder so they can hardly launch into why OP's belief that there was was in anyway unreasonable. Until they accept that OP actually had such a belief how can they argue it was an unreasonable belief? As far as the State is concerned that belief by OP never existed. They can not argue (have not argued) that it was an unreasonable belief.


    From everything I've read Pistorius is (none / 0) (#15)
    by MO Blue on Thu Mar 13, 2014 at 10:14:24 PM EST
    not self-defense.

    Pistorius is not claiming self-defense; he is claiming to have been mistaken about his need for self-defense. He is denying he intentionally, unlawfully killed Steenkamp. He has never denied killing her.

    Pistorius self defence claim (none / 0) (#16)
    by RuthMary on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 08:09:56 AM EST
    It is early days yet for the Prosecution and they have almost 100 witnesses still to call. Pistorius cannot hope to claim self-defence.  Facts: if he was so concerned about intruders, why was he sleeping with his bedroom doors wide open?  Why was the front door of his house unlocked?  Why were screams heard by more than one witness and the lights in the bathroom were on (not off as OP said)?  He can't claim self defence when he shot several times through a closed door, not knowing who was behind the door, not even checking first to see if RS was still in bed or not.  He was not in fear of his life or RS's life as he only had to quietly wake her send her out of the house, and then call on whoever was in the toilet to come out, all the time with his gun in his hand ready to fire.  I personally believe he knew it was Reeva and meant to kill her.  Much more will be revealed but if I were OP, I'd be worried about taking the stand and being questioned by the Prosecution!