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Ballistic expert testifies in Oscar trial

A ballistics expert is expected to testify on Wednesday whether "Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius was indeed without his prosthetic legs when he fired shots that killed his girlfriend.

Taking the stand on Tuesday, Captain Christian Mangena told the High Court in Pretoria he had performed tests linking the holes in the toilet door through which the athlete fired his handgun with marks on the tiles and the position of Reeva Steenkamp’s fatal wounds.

The one bullet that missed Steenkamp was fired at a downwards angle of five to six degrees, Mangena said, adding that he had used laser technology to back up conventional ballistic tests.

After questioning Mangena at length about his methods and the results of his measurements, prosecutor Gerrie Nel said he would prefer to leave questions as to his conclusions for Thursday, turning potentially the most interesting testimony of the day into a cliffhanger.

Pistorius denies intending to kill Steenkamp, and contends that he believed he was shooting at an intruder hiding in the toilet cubicle of his Pretoria townhouse.

In his version, he was on his stumps both when he fired the shots but then put on his prosthetic legs before breaking the locked door down with a cricket bat.

This was contradicted last week by a police forensics expert who said the bat marks on the door were too low for that to be true and he believed the paralympic athlete was on his stumps when he battered the door.

Mangena was the fourth police witness to testify, following on colleagues who were vigorously cross-examined by Pistorius’s lawyer as he seeks to make a case that police failed to preserve the scene of the shooting and tampered with evidence.

On Tuesday, Barry Roux suggested that Warrant Officer Barend van Staden — the police photographer who took thousands of pictures of the scene –had moved evidence around and withheld photographs from the court that contradict the version of events put forward by the State.

Roux argued that two different photographs showed that Van Staden had moved the cricket bat, forcing Van Staden to concede: “It seems so.”

However, this was later countered by Nel when he re-examined the witness.

Pointing to spots of blood on the bathroom floor next to the bat, the prosecutor was able to lead Van Staden to explain that the bat had remained in the same place and he had merely used different camera angles.

However, pictures clearly showed that a pair of white plastic flip-flops were moved from one part of Pistorius’s bedroom to another.

Van Staden denied that he moved, and said he had moved only a sports bag with clothes.

“Your honour the plakkies… I don’t know who moved it. The sports bag I moved,” said Van Staden.

He told the court that it was a legitimate part of investigative work at times to move objects.

“It is just part of the investigation, My Lady.”

Roux repeatedly asked Van Staden whether he was alone in a room while taking pictures and where his colleagues were at the time.

Showing photographs taken in the bathroom where Steenkamp was shot, he asked: “When you took the photos are you sure you were alone up there?”

“I’m certain of it,” Van Staden replied.

Roux then put it to Van Staden that one of the officers from the ballistics section of the forensics laboratory was taking photos of the scene at the same time as Van Staden.

“There was a great overlap between you and Colonel Motha. You were together when you said you were alone.”

Returning to this later, Nel asked how it was possible that Van Staden and Mangena took photographs in the same confined space at the same time but do not appear in each other’s pictures.

Did they collude to “miss” each other, he wanted to know.

Van Staden said no.

It has been widely expected that Pistorius’s defence would try to poke holes in police testimony since his bail hearing when Roux forced the investigator at the time to concede embarrassing oversights, resulting in his removal from the case.

Since Pistorius went on trial here on March 3, the police have been forced to admit that an investigator picked up the disabled athlete’s handgun without gloves, and that one his expensive watches disappeared from the scene.

Roux’s style of cross-examination again drew protest from prosecutor Gerrie Nel on Tuesday, who said the defence lawyer was humiliating Van Staden by asking if he could tell the difference between the two sides of a cricket bat.

Judge Thokozile Masipa rebuked Roux, saying: “To start with, you cannot argue with a witness… you cannot argue with a witness.”

Other witnesses have so far told the court that they heard a woman’s terrified screams for help from the direction of Pistorius’s home just before Steenkamp died in the early hours of Valentine’s Day last year.

The State contends that the couple had a row that night.

Pistorius also faces charges of contravening the Firearms Control Act.

– Sapa

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Oscar Pistorius Oscar Trial Reeva Steenkamp

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