Oscar Pistorius Trial Day 29: Defense witness contradicts Blade Runner's version of events

Oscar Pistorius Trial Day 29: Defense witness contradicts Blade Runner's version of events
Oscar Pistorius Trial Day 29: Defense witness contradicts Blade Runner's version of events

PRETORIA, South Africa – It was the second time an expert witness for the defense disputed the testimony of the man who hired him.

Pointing at a bloodless, oblong patch of tile near the toilet bowl, in a photograph of the bloody bathroom cubicle where Oscar Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend Reeva Stennkamp on Valentine's Day last year, defense ballistics expert Wollie Wolmarans nodded vigorously.

"I agree with Mr. Dixon [defense forensic expert Roger Dixon]. That magazine rack was there when she started bleeding," he told the court.

There's no blood on the tile there, in the shape of the foot of the rack, he explained. "That's common sense."

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel smiled and said, "Although it's common sense, it's not the accused's version."

In his version of events, Pistorius clearly described the magazine rack being against the wall in the toilet, declaring that he found Steenkamp in the middle of the blood pool – where the magazine rack was pictured in police photographs.

"Well, I don't know. That's what I'm saying," the gruff Wolmarans repeated, "That magazine rack was there when she started bleeding."

Nel was triumphant. "So then, the accused must be wrong," he said.

"Might be wrong," Wolmarans replied, shrugging.

It is not a new revelation – Dixon suggested that Pistorius may have been mistaken on this detail in his testimony weeks ago – but it certainly doesn't help the Paralympian's case. The star athlete maintains that he shot Steenkamp believing her to be an intruder, while the prosecution says it was cold-blooded murder.

But Wolmarans, on the stand for a second day, told the court that nothing can be certain. "My lady," he told the judge, "what happened behind that door we will never know."

The former police officer, who has 34 years of experience in ballistics, pointed out that both the defense and prosecution agree on several points: that Pistorius fired his 9mm while on his stumps (according to bullet trajectory); that the Paralympian only hit the door with his cricket bat after he fired four gunshots through it (as the shape of cracks in the door demonstrate); and that Steenkamp was wearing her shorts when she was shot (the bullet passed through the waistband).

So it is the small details left for both sides to quibble over.

The state has painted a picture of a terrified model who locked herself in a small toilet room, cowering in fear from her furious boyfriend, who shot her dead in a fit of rage. Much rests on their ability to prove Steenkamp's position inside the cubicle.

Wolmarans described his version of the scenario for the court: Steenkamp standing close to the door when the first shot hit her hip, which caused her to fall back, further from the door, with the succeeding shots hitting her as she fell.

The ballistics expert says the bruises on her back were caused by a magazine rack, not a bullet fragment, and that her left hand wasn't protecting her head when she sustained her "devastating" head injury, otherwise her palm would have been covered in wounds from pieces of bone, bullet and brain tissue.

Countering the prosecution's analysis, Wolmarans pointed out that Chris Mangena, the state ballistics expert, had failed to take possible deflection into account, as the bullets passed through the door. He described potential shifts in bullet trajectory, explaining that photographs of the probes inserted into Steenkamp's wounds supported his theory. Pistorius covered his eyes.

It was a debate that caused Mangena, still inside the courtroom on Friday, to pull out his props: his tripod-mounted laser and aerosol can, in a demonstration for the judge, who watched bemusedly after being led over to Courtroom GD's replica toilet cubicle.

They were not the only forensic tests under scrutiny.

Having testified that the sounds he recorded of a cricket bat against a door and gunshots through it were remarkably similar, Wolmarans admitted he conducted the test without his hearing aid. The full extent of his tinnitus became clear in court Friday, as he failed to hear the judge several times, leading her to resort to mime.

Nel pointed out that in the recordings, the chirps of crickets in the background were noticeably louder behind the bat than on the gunshots, insinuating possible amplification and evidence doctoring. Wolmarans shrugged, pointing at his ear. "I couldn't hear the crickets."

Admitting that he'd altered his original reports because of consultation – his final report was only submitted on April 23, after other experts had testified – he insisted it was only to improve his second-language English.

"But never, ever, was I asked to alter my report to suit the defense case," Wolmarans told the judge.

In seeking to further demonstrate his third-party objectivity, after also admitting he'd had beers with Dixon after his testimony and discussed the case, he struck another blow for the defense.

"Did you, after his evidence, change anything in your report?" Nel asked.

"It's a possibility that I've changed anything on my report, but not things that I've discussed with him or anything," Wolmarans said. "My lady, Mr. DIxon is not a ballistics expert, so I won't even take his advice to change my report."

Nel grinned.

"That's an interesting comment. So you wouldn't take Mr. Dixon's advice on ballistic efforts at all?" the prosecutor asked.

Wolmarans shook his head earnestly. "No, I wouldn't take his advice."

Crowing, the prosecutor turned to the judge. "The court should do the same! The court should also discard everything he [Dixon] said about ballistics!"

Wolmarans also sought to distance himself from Pistorius, insisting he had never once consulted with the murder-accused.

But the shooting incident was discussed, in your presence and the accused's presence, Nel told him.

Wolmarans stammered. "I started to talk about something and I was very … I was not aware what I was doing, and I brought up a photo of the deceased, and he [Pistorius] went out, and he went vomiting, and he never came back into the consultation room," he told Nel.

The prosecutor gave an audible sigh of disgust. "You see Mr. Wolmarans, why would that be an answer to my question?" he asked, going on to enrage the grey-haired forensic expert. "No, Mr. Wolmarans, you showed your bias, you just wanted to say the accused vomited, that's all."

Wolmarans was indignant.

"No my lady, I'm not biased," he countered. "I've testified and I see myself as a witness of this court, and I'm here to assist the court wherever I can, and I take exception to the fact that Mr. Nel say I'm biased. … I've never lied in a court!"

The ballistics expert is part of the team of private forensic experts hired by the defense to conduct their own independent investigations. It has been an expensive exercise, estimated to cost up to $10,000 a day, a sum that includes Pistorius' high-profile attorneys.

Forced to sell his home to cover his legal bills, Pistorius has accepted an offer on the house where he shot his girlfriend, according to his attorneys.

Defense advocate Brian Webber would not give details of the buyer nor selling price, but during his bail application, the Paralympian's house was valued at $500,000. Other similar properties in the Silver Woods estate have been fetching around $350,000.

Wolmarans returns to the stand Monday.


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