x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Prosecution witness gives confusing testimony in Pistorius case

Testimony by detective Hilton Botha of the South African Police Service leaves prosecutors rubbing their temples, as he misjudged distances and acknowledged a forensics team left in the toilet bowl one of the bullet slugs fired at Reeva Steenkamp.

PRETORIA // The detective leading the police investigation into Oscar Mr Pistorius' fatal shooting of his girlfriend offered confusing testimony yesterday, at one point agreeing with the athlete's defence that officers had no evidence challenging the runner's claim he accidentally killed her.

Testimony by Detective Warrant Officer Hilton Botha of the South African Police Service left prosecutors rubbing their temples, only able to look down at their notes as he misjudged distances and acknowledged a forensics team left in the toilet bowl one of the bullet slugs fired at Reeva Steenkamp.

Mr Botha still poked holes in the Olympic star's own account that he feared for his life and opened fire on Valentine's Day after mistaking Steenkamp for an intruder. The second day of the bail hearing in a case that has riveted South Africa and much of the world appeared at first to go against the double-amputee runner.

A woman who lives in the same Pretoria complex as Mr Pistorius "heard talking that sounded like non-stop fighting from two to three in the morning", hours before she was killed, Prosecutor Gerrie Nel said.

Mr Botha later said under cross examination that the person who overheard the argument was in a house 600 meters away. When questioned again later in the day, Mr Botha acknowledged the distance was much closer - just 300 metres.

Confusion reigned for much of his testimony, when at one point Mr Botha said officers found syringes and steroids in Mr Pistorius' bedroom. Mr Nel, the prosecutor, quickly cut the officer off and said the drugs were testosterone.

Mr Pistorius's lead defence lawyer, Barry Roux, asserted when questioning the detective that it was not a banned substance.

"It is an herbal remedy," Mr Roux said.

The name of the drug, offered later in court by Mr Roux, could not be immediately found in reference materials. A spokesman for prosecutor later said it was too early to know what the substance was.

The International Paralympic Committee said yesterday that Mr Pistorius was drug-tested before and during last year's Paralympic Games in London and on both occasions the results were negative.

Mr Pistorius, 26, said in an affidavit read in court Tuesday that he and his 29-year-old girlfriend had gone to bed and that when he awoke during the night he detected what he thought was an intruder in the bathroom. He testified that he grabbed his 9mm pistol and fired into the door of a toilet enclosed in the bathroom, only to discover later to his horror that Steenkamp was there, mortally wounded.

Mr Pistorius, the first Paralympian runner to compete at the Olympics, is charged with premeditated murder in the case.

The prosecution attempted to cement its argument that the couple had a shouting match, that Steenkamp fled and locked herself into the toilet stall of the bathroom and that Mr Pistorius fired four shots through the door, hitting her with three bullets.

Mr Botha said: "I believe that he knew that Reeva was in the bathroom."

But asked if the police found anything inconsistent with the version of events presented by Mr Pistorius, Mr Botha responded that they had not. He later said nothing contradicted the police's version either.

Mr Nel projected a plan of the bedroom and bathroom in the courtroom and argued that Mr Pistorius had to walk past his bed to get to the bathroom and could not have done so without realising that Steenkamp was not in the bed.

Mr Botha said the trajectory of the bullets showed the gun was fired pointed down and from a height. This seems to conflict with Mr Pistorius' statement on Tuesday in which he said he did not have his prosthetics on and felt vulnerable because he was in a low position when he opened fired.

Officers also found .38-calibre pistol rounds in a safe, which Mr Botha said Mr Pistorius owned illegally. However, Mr Botha also acknowledged investigators did not take photographs of the ammunition.

Steenkamp was shot in the head over her right ear and in her right elbow and hip, breaking her arm and hip, Mr Botha said. However, Mr Roux later asked Mr Botha if Steenkamp's body showed "any pattern of defensive wounds". The detective said no.

Police also found two iPhones in the bathroom and two BlackBerrys in the bedroom, Mr Botha said, adding that none had been used to phone for help. Mr Roux later suggested that a fifth phone, not collected by the police, was used by Mr Pistorius to make calls for a hospital and help. After the hearing, Mr Roux told journalists that Mr Pistorius' defence team had the phone, but did not elaborate.

After four hours of testimony, the hearing was adjourned until today. It may then be several months before a trial. If convicted of premeditated murder, Mr Pistorius faces life in jail.