Fri, Mar 14, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Pistorius’ bullet-holed toilet door displayed at trial

AP, PRETORIA

Police forensic expert Colonel Johannes Vermeulen holds a cricket bat as he takes part in a reconstruction on the eighth day of the murder trial of South African Olympian Oscar Pistorius at the High Court in Pretoria, South Africa, on Wednesday.

Photo: EPA

A South African police officer swung a cricket bat at Oscar Pistorius’ bullet-marked bathroom door during his murder trial on Wednesday, using two key pieces of evidence to re-enact the night he killed his girlfriend.

Police Colonel Johannes Vermeulen faced tough questioning from Pistorius’ defense lawyer, who tried to discredit the police investigation of the shooting and alleged that Vermeulen, a forensic expert, made glaring missteps in his analysis.

Pistorius’ lawyers secured bail for him last year after contending that police contaminated or tampered with evidence from the home where he allegedly fatally shot Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year.

Pistorius says the killing was a mistake, while the prosecution alleges the 27-year-old double-amputee intentionally shot Steenkamp after an argument.

The actual door that Pistorius shot through a year ago was erected in the Pretoria courtroom on Wednesday and the bat he used that night was used in the demonstrations. There was even a toilet cubicle behind the door, recreated to the exact specifications of the small area of Pistorius’ bathroom where the 29-year-old model was fatally shot, Vermeulen said.

Below the door’s handle, four bullet holes were clearly visible. Steenkamp was hit three times in the hip, arm and head. One shot missed, the court heard.

Pistorius says he used the bat to break down the door after realizing he shot Steenkamp, mistaking her for an intruder.

Kneeling, Vermeulen swung the bat to show how he believed Pistorius struck the door from a low angle, indicating he was on his stumps at the time.

Defense lawyer Barry Roux insisted Pistorius was wearing his prosthetic legs, saying the bat marks on the door were low because he swung with a bent back.

The back-and-forth over whether Pistorius was on his prosthetic limbs or not is important because it could match parts of his story that he accidentally shot Steenkamp, or expose inconsistencies in it.

Last year, prosecutors maintained Pistorius was on his prostheses when he fired through the door, arguing the runner planned the killing while putting on his artificial limbs, but in a reversal, prosecutor Gerrie Nel said in court on Wednesday that he did not dispute the defense’s contention that the runner was on his stumps when he opened fire.

The athlete has said he fearfully approached the bathroom on his stumps and shot Steenkamp by mistake, thinking she was an intruder hiding behind the door. According to his account, he then put on his prostheses and tried to kick down the locked door, striking it with a cricket bat in a panicked attempt to reach his girlfriend.

Roux turned up the pressure on Vermeulen, saying the police investigator failed to properly look at another mark on the door the defense says was made by Pistorius’ prosthetic leg as he tried to kick it down, leaving a piece of sock fabric lodged in the wood.

The defense lawyer also indicated that police investigators might have left a shoe print on the door and missing fragments from the door were not examined.

Earlier, Vermeulen also said a metal panel on the wall of the main bathroom in Pistorius’ home had been damaged by being hit with a “hard” object. The panel was new evidence.

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