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Pistorius trial: Defense alleges police errors

By Christopher Torchia and Gerald Imray / Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 04:35 a.m. HST, Mar 18, 2014


PRETORIA, South Africa » Police photographs of the blood-spattered scene where Oscar Pistorius shot dead his girlfriend indicate that evidence was moved around in violation of procedure during the investigation of the killing, the athlete's chief defense lawyer said Tuesday.

Warrant officer Bennie van Staden, a police photographer, took hundreds of photos of the scene, including of blood stains, bullet casings, a gun and a cricket bat found inside Pistorius' bathroom in the hours after the double-amputee Olympic runner shot girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp before dawn on Feb. 14 last year.

Lawyer Barry Roux has challenged previous police witnesses, seeking to uncover contradictions and reported mishaps to support his argument that officers bungled the investigation, an allegation made by Pistorius at the start of the trial when he pleaded not guilty to murder in Steenkamp's killing.

In a sometimes painstaking process Tuesday, Roux minutely examined many photos taken by van Staden and another police officer and pointed out that objects at the crime scene had been moved and were in different positions in photos. Roux also used time of day records on the images to show that the two policemen taking photographs were in the same room at points, even though van Staden testified he was working alone.

Roux compared photos of the bloody bathroom scene taken by van Staden with photos in the bathroom taken by another policeman, identified as a Col. Motha. Both were in the bathroom at that time, according to the times shown on the images.

"You did not see Col. Motha?" Roux asked van Staden, who replied he did not.

"How big is this bathroom?" Roux said.

Maybe missing the hint of sarcasm in Roux's question, van Staden said the bathroom was approximately four meters by four meters.

Pistorius, 27, is charged with premeditated murder for killing Steenkamp, 29. He denies murder and says he shot his girlfriend accidentally, thinking she was an intruder in a toilet cubicle in the bathroom, and says that he struck the toilet door with a cricket bat to get to Steenkamp after realizing what he had done.

Prosecutors charge that Pistorius killed Steenkamp after an argument.

Pistorius' lawyer also asked van Staden to explain differences in photographs of the 9 mm pistol that Pistorius used to shoot Steenkamp through a closed toilet door, and of a cricket bat that the Paralympian used to hit the door.

"It seems there was movement of the bat" in the interval between two photographs taken by van Staden, Roux said.

"It seems like that," van Staden conceded.

The police photographer also acknowledged that two photographs of the gun indicated that a mat underneath it could have been shifted. Roux said one photo also differed from the other because it showed a wooden splinter on the gun handle.

Two other photos of objects on the bedroom floor next to Pistorius' bed showed tissues, what was identified as a CD or disc and a remote control were in different positions. Van Staden said he did not know who moved them, but he remembered the disc was previously under the bed.

"How does it happen that there's such a great disturbance of that scene?" Roux asked.

Roux was trying to build a picture of a cluttered and confused crime scene with many officers working on it and possibly contaminating the evidence.

Van Staden has said he also took nine photographs of Pistorius soon after the shooting, with the athlete seen in some of the images standing in blood-stained prosthetic legs and wearing blood-soaked shorts in the garage of his home.

Van Staden's testimony on Tuesday was delayed by over an hour to give the policeman time to collect photo records and discs at the defense's request. Van Staden had said he would have to retrieve photo records from office administration, but then said Tuesday he had forgotten that he was actually in possession of the master copies of the shooting scene photographs.

___

Associated Press writer Torchia reported from Johannesburg.






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