14 March 2014

South Africa: Pistorius's Lawyer Grills Cops

Photo: Werner Beukes/Sapa
Paralympian Oscar Pistorius in court (file photo).

Pretoria — "Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius's lawyer on Friday accused a former police officer of using his testimony to spare the State the embarrassment of calling to the stand a colleague who had compromised evidence.

"You allowed yourself to give evidence that was designed to take the place of Mr Botha," Barry Roux, SC, said to former police colonel Giliam van Rensburg during cross-examination.

He was referring to Hilton Botha, the investigator who was dropped from the high-profile case last year after he admitted contaminating the scene where Pistorius shot dead his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in February last year.

Judge Thokozile Masipa asked Roux to repeat his statement in a more simple manner.

"You are standing in for Mr Botha's evidence on aspects that you cannot stand in for," Roux said.

Van Rensburg denied this, adding that Botha expected that he would have to testify in the murder trial.

Shortly before this exchange, Roux had asked the High Court in Pretoria if the State would call Botha as this would determine how many questions he would put to Van Rensburg.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel rose and said: "I don't know yet, My Lady. We'll decide that as the evidence comes."

Roux proceeded to attack the police investigation and the credibility of Van Rensburg, former commander of the Boschkop police station, who was the first policeman to arrive at Pistorius's home after the shooting.

The lawyer repeatedly made the point that "material facts" were absent from his initial statement, implying that he had to rely on observations that were in fact made by Botha.

Painstakingly taking Van Rensburg through the police's actions in the hours and days that followed Steenkamp's shooting, he repeatedly asked: "Where was Mr Botha?"

Van Rensburg said he did not see Botha touch or move anything as they followed a trial of blood leading up the stairs of Pistorius's home.

He admitted, however, that some time later he saw, to his dismay, a ballistics officer pick up the gun that Pistorius used to shoot Steenkamp without protective gloves.

This was the second embarrassing admission he was forced to make after earlier telling the court that one of Pistorius's luxury watches had disappeared from the scene.

Van Rensburg said he then took the utmost caution to secure the crime scene and prevent evidence, notably the bathroom door through which the fatal shots were fired, from being contaminated.

On Thursday, he told the court how he arrived at Pistorius's home to find Steenkamp's body lying under bloody coverings and the star Paralympic athlete pacing the kitchen floor in distress.

"He was very emotional," Van Rensburg repeated to Roux on Friday.

"I would not say unstable... but he was upset," he added and confirmed that the first two times he asked Pistorius what had happened, he failed to respond.

"My deduction was that as a result of his emotional state, he was not able to answer."

Pistorius has pleaded not guilty to premeditated murder. He claims he did not intend to kill Steenkamp but believed there was an intruder in his bathroom when he fired four shots through the locked toilet cubicle door, fatally wounding the glamour model.

In his plea explanation, he accused the police of tampering with evidence, suggesting that this would be a pillar of his defence.

The State is trying to prove that he shot her deliberately after an argument.

Earlier this week it called to the stand a police forensic expert who disputed Pistorius's claim that he was wearing his prosthetic legs when he used a cricket bat to force open the locked toilet door.

Both Van Rensburg and Botha have left the SA Police Service since the shooting. Van Rensburg retired in December, while Botha resigned shortly after Pistorius's bail hearing where he conceded that he failed to put on protective footwear when inspecting the scene of the shooting.

It also emerged during the bail hearing that he had faced criminal charges for shooting at a taxi.

The trial was set to resume after lunch with further cross-examination of Van Rensburg.

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