17 March 2014

South Africa: Cop Justifies Moving Things in Oscar Home

Photo: Werner Beukes/SAPA
Paralympic champion Oscar Pistorius in court (file photo).

Pretoria — A police investigator on Monday told the Oscar Pistorius murder trial that he had moved objects on the scene where the paralympic athlete shot his girlfriend as a legitimate part of investigative work.

Warrant Officer Barend van Staden testified that he had turned and lifted objects, including a blood-stained duvet and the cricket bat Pistorius used to break down a door, to photograph them from various angles and look for further evidence.

"So you moved items on the scene?" asked prosecutor Gerrie Nel, in an apparent move to counter allegations from the defence that police had tampered with evidence.

"Did you handle the bat? Why did you pick up the towel? What happened to the towel? What happened to the cellphones?"

"That is correct My Lady," said Van Staden, who was called to Pistorius's home shortly after he shot Reeva Steenkamp in the early hours of Valentine's Day last year.

Van Staden said he turned the cricket bat over to take a photograph showing blood at its tip, and lifted a towel in the bathroom because he saw a cell phone protruding from underneath it.

"During my investigations, My Lady, I moved the towel and I saw the phone."

Van Staden took nine photographs of Pistorius in a pair of blooded shorts with blood also on his prosthetic leg and foot. He was the third policeman to take the stand in the trial that entered its third week in the High Court in Pretoria on Monday.

In cross-examination Pistorius's lawyer Barry Roux asked the police photographer whether he had taken more photographs of the accused but discarded them, and whether he was alone at the scene while he worked.

"You had undisturbed access to the scene -- it was only you and your camera?"

Van Staden said he was, until members of the provincial police task team arrived. He denied having excluded photographs of Pistorius from the file of evidence.

Roux then asked whether he would be allowed access to his camera memory cards. Nel insisted that this would only be acceptable if the photographer was present, to which the defence lawyer snapped that he did not plan to "tamper".

On Friday, Roux had shown Giliam van Rensburg, who was the first policeman at the scene, through the photographs and suggested that the altered position of the towel, a fan and other objects showed not only that the scene may have been contaminated but that his written statement of what he had encountered could not be trusted.

On Monday morning, the State called to the stand Pistorius's firearm dealer, Sean Rens, who told the court the athlete had a passion for guns.

"He had a great love and enthusiasm for them."

Rens said he met Pistorius in May 2012 and sold him a Smith and Wesson 500 revolver.

When they met, Pistorius had only owned a single firearm -- a 9mm pistol.

But in the following months, he bought six more firearms from Rens, who said he checked that his client had a licence and kept a record of his training.

Rens said as part of his competency test, Pistorius had completed a questionnaire that presented the applicant with various burglary scenarios and asked whether they would justify the use of lethal force.

Pistorius answered no in each case, except in the hypothesis where two armed men advance on him in his house with no security gate between himself and the intruders.

Nel then presented Rens with a copy of an invoice, and he confirmed that Pistorius had ordered:

-- a rifle or carbine vector LM6, which Rens said was a civilian version of the semi-automatic assault rifle that South Africa's police or military use;

-- a Winchester shotgun;

--a Mossberg Maverick shotgun; --a Smith and Wesson revolver .38 special, the smallest revolver as opposed to the largest, the Smith and Wesson 500;

-- a Mossberg semi-automatic self-loading shotgun and -- another self-loading rifle.

However, the firearms were never handed over to Pistorius because he cancelled the order after Steenkamp's death.

"The transaction was cancelled a month post-incident."

Pistorius has pleaded not guilty to premeditated murder, contending that he shot the blonde swimsuit model through a locked bathroom door in his Pretoria home in the belief that an intruder was hiding behind it.

The State is arguing that he killed her after the couple had a row.

In addition to murder, the State has also charged Pistorius with contraventions of the Firearms Control Act.

Witnesses have testified that he set off a friend's Glock pistol under a table at a Johannesburg restaurant in January 2013, and then asked the friend -- Darren Fresco -- to take responsibility because he did not want negative publicity.

Fresco also told the court that on September 30, 2012 Pistorius had shocked him by firing a shot through the open sunroof of a car while they were driving through Modderfontein.

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