Pistorius Defense Chides Alleged Police Bungling at Crime ScenePaul Burkhardt
Oscar Pistorius’s defense lawyer portrayed a bungled police investigation at the scene of his girlfriend’s killing, citing contradictory statements, a gun handled without gloves and an apparently stolen watch.
Defense lawyer Barry Roux’s cross examination of former investigator Schoombie van Rensburg today at the High Court in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital, revealed discrepancies in police statements on who was first at the scene of the shooting of model Reeva Steenkamp in Pistorius’s bathroom.
The Paralympian gold medalist has pleaded not guilty to the charge of intentionally killing Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year. Double-amputee Pistorius, 27, says he thought she was an intruder when he shot her through a toilet cubicle door in his bathroom. The prosecution says he shot Steenkamp three times after an argument.
Van Rensburg said today that a watch disappeared from the crime scene and that he ordered a search of all the police officers and their bags.
“Those watches were tempting to any person because they were expensive,” he said. The search turned up nothing.
Van Rensburg said he also became angry when he saw a ballistics expert handling the gun at the murder scene without gloves on. After the watch went missing, he decided to move the bathroom cubicle door, a key piece of evidence, to his office.
“We already had the experience of the missing watch, so we decided to take the door,” he said.
The trial adjourned and will resume on March 17.
Van Rensburg has since resigned from the police and is now a sports coach, he told the court. Detective Hilton Botha, who also was at the scene, quit the police in March last year after being dropped as lead investigator when it emerged that he was facing seven charges of attempted murder for allegedly firing at a minibus in 2011.
During Pistorius’s bail hearing, the magistrate said Botha made several errors, including possibly contaminating the crime scene, not checking for other mobile phones owned by Pistorius and misidentifying substances found at his home as testosterone.
Roux today asked Van Rensburg if he was giving a broad view of the evidence to avoid the airing of mistakes made by Botha.
“You’re standing in for Mr. Botha on evidence that you cannot stand on,” he said.
Roux also read statements of other officers, with details that differed from Van Rensburg’s account of when he arrived at the scene and who he went upstairs with to the bathroom.
“How do you feel about your ability to observe?” Roux asked, showing a photo of the front door of the Pistorius house sealed with police tape. After putting forward a second photograph, he asked if Van Rensburg noticed that there was a difference between the two, which indicated separate patterns of tape.
“I did not pick it up,” Van Rensburg said.
Van Rensburg earlier took the court through photographs of Pistorius’s Pretoria home, detailing blood spatter from where Steenkamp’s body was lying on the lower level of the house to the upper-floor main bedroom and bloody toilet. A gun lay on the floor by the cubicle, near towels, splinters of wood and two mobile phones, he said.
“While we were busy with gathering the evidence, as the information comes through and the evidence has been gathered it became clear to me that we have a case,” against the accused, Van Rensburg said. “Then he was arrested and taken by two detectives of mine to the police station.”
The photographs showed that a duvet in the bedroom was on the floor and sprinkled with blood, a gun clip was on the bed and there was a hole in the bathroom door and an air gun leaning against it. They also revealed Pistorius as the police found him, in bloody shorts.
Known as the Blade Runner because of his J-shaped prosthetic running blades, Pistorius, who also faces three gun charges, has been free on 1 million rand ($93,000) bail. Judge Thokozile Masipa will give a final judgment after the trial, which is being broadcast live on radio and TV, because South Africa doesn’t have a jury system.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel may call more than 100 witnesses to testify in the case. The trial may continue until April 4, after which the court will go into a short recess, Johannesburg-based SAPA news agency reported, citing Andrea Johnson, a member of Nel’s team.
The charges have derailed the running career of the winner of six Paralympic gold medals and cost Pistorius sponsorship deals with Nike Inc. and Luxottica Group SpA’s Oakley. He was the first double amputee to compete at the Olympics Games in London in 2012.