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Pistorius’s experts – what have they been doing?

Perhaps the most staggering claim to emerge in the testimony from Oscar Pistorius's forensic expert Wollie Wolmarans is that nearly two months into his client's murder trial he filed his first report to counsel - which meant Advocate Barry Roux was questioning state witnesses for four weeks armed with the ballistic expert's "notes".

It's not an unreasonable expectation to think that going in to one of the most high-profile cases of the decade, being prosecuted by a man recognised by the International Association of Prosecutors for his work, that the defence team would be properly prepared. Surely Pistorius would have expected this?

What has emerged is a defence team that has patched holes rather than punched them, and it's the timeline of events inside and outside the court that they cannot get away from and Gerrie Nel will certainly use this to prove dishonesty.

The trial started on 3 March with neighbour Michelle Burger, who testified to hearing a woman screaming followed by noises that she believed to be gunshots. The defence's version of events soon emerged - that Burger had actually been woken by a first set of noises, the gunshots, then heard Pistorius screaming, not Reeva Steenkamp, and that the second set of noises was in fact the cricket bat striking the Meranti toilet door.

To believe this version you have to accept two things - that a cricket striking a door can sound as loud and as similar to a gunshot, and that the athlete's screams sound like a woman's. Up until this point, at least on the cricket bat vs gunshot score, the defence had not considered tests that may prove their case.

As more neighbours testified and Roux repeated his client's version of events, a video was uploaded to YouTube on 8 March where a man tested the claim, and recorded himself hitting a door with a bat and firing a handgun. It was a good test - and convincing.

On 18 March, police ballistics expert Captain Chris Mangena testified about the tests he conducted on the Meranti door at the crime scene and the conclusions he had reached in relation to the sequence of shots and the position of the deceased behind the door. The defence, through Wolmarans's findings he had provided verbally or via notes, disputed this. Of particular issue was the wound to Steenamp's right arm, which the defence claimed was caused when her arm was in close proximity to the door, and is proved by the fact that secondary wounds caused by splinters are visible around the bullet entry wound. Roux questioned whether Mangena had conducted any proximity and splinter dispersion tests, but he admitted that his team had not. "I have not done the tests… (but) it will be the evidence of the ballistic experts that the right arm was in close proximity of the door," he said.

It was only after the defence advocate finished cross-examining the state's ballistics expert that Wolmarans headed to a shooting range to conduct additional tests. On 21 March, the defence consultant, fellow expert Roger Dixon, and a sound engineer recorded the sound of a bat striking a door, as well as a Taurus 9mm being fired. But the handgun was jamming and the team was only able to record it firing single shots. (They would return two weeks later to conduct another test, but without Dixon.)

Five days later and more than a week after Mangena stepped out of the witness box, Wolmarans returned to the shooting range, this time to conduct splinter dispersion tests - what Roux had questioned Mangena about and discovered he had not done.

Pistorius would start testifying several weeks later after an adjournment of a week. In the second week of testimony during cross-examination, on 14 April, Nel questioned the athlete about a blue LED light - the power indicator on a surround sound amplifier - in his bedroom which he claimed distracted him, and which he wanted to cover with a pair of pants. (After moving the fans and closing the balcony door, Pistorius said he was distracted by the light and wanted to cover it with a pair of jeans, before he heard the noise in the bathroom.) Pistorius said that the small light was the only light in the pitch-dark bedroom.

Nel disputed Pistorius's story, saying that the display screen on the amplifier illuminated far more light, and questioned why this was not an issue. "You have to create time. You have to, on your version, build in a time gap for Reeva to get to the bathroom. That is why you invented what you are doing now. It must be because otherwise that whole amplifier would have bothered you, not only one blue light." Pistorius, however, persisted with his claim.

That night, just hours after Nel accused the athlete of making up his claim about the blue light, Dixon was back at the crime scene to test the amount of light in the bedroom. "With the one CD player on, it has a little bit of light," said Dixon while being led in his evidence in chief on 15 April. "With your back to the light, I could not see into the darker areas of the room."

The expert told Nel under cross-examination "the aim of the test was to see what was visible using one's eyes".

When Wolmarans started his testimony on 8 May he presented his 37 page report dated 23 April to the court. His evidence and subsequent cross-examination provided further insight in to what was happening outside the courtroom and raised significant questions about how this defence team has prepared for the trial.

In the year that Wolmarans investigated the case he never once asked Pistorius what type of ammunition he used. He conducted several of his own tests using Black Talon ammunition, but told the court that this was incorrect and that his client was in fact using Winchester Ranger ammunition - a lighter grain, but which produces the same effect.

But Pistorius himself confirmed to Nel that he used this ammunition. "Who fired at her (Steenkamp) with Black Yalon ammunition?" asked Nel. "I did, my lady," was the response from the accused. "Why did you have Black Talon ammunition?" continued the prosecutor."It is ammunition that is used for my type of firearm, my lady," said Pistorius, confirming that he believed his weapon was loaded with these bullets.

The speed at which the accused fired the four shots through the door has emerged as key to the state's case. The sounds of the bangs, according to witnesses, reveal that there was first a shot, a brief pause, then three final shots in quick succession. Roux first put it to witnesses that his client had fired two volleys of double-taps (two shots in very quick succession) but later withdrew this claim, and said that Pistorius fired the four shots in quick succession.

Wolmarans was asked how quickly Pistorius fires, but he could not say. This is not good enough. He had access to the accused. He could have taken Pistorius to a shooting range and asked him to fire four shots as quickly as he could, or at the very least replicate what he believed he did on the night - the athlete claims he remembers very clearly how he fired.

In the hours after Pistorius killed Steenkamp the defence team hired Durban-based private pathologist Dr Reggie Perumal, who was in Pretoria a day later to attend the post-mortem which was conducted by state pathologist Professor Gert Saayman. Perumal witnessed the post-mortem; he took his own notes and compiled his own report for the defence team. But Wolmarans conceded that he never consulted with Perumal when he drew an inference from a photo take at the post-mortem. Why would your forensic expert not ask the defence pathologist for clarity when compiling his report? The absence of Perumal is another controversy that won't be discussed here.

Roux put it to several witnesses, particularly neighbours, in their testimony that when his client is anxious and he screams, he sounds like a woman. Pistorius told the court in his testimony that tests were conducted and he was made emotional before being asked to scream.

Roux has yet to call an expert to prove his client's scream sounds feminine, and he'll have to if the judge is to believe the claim. But what will perhaps be most striking is if it's revealed when exactly this test was conducted, and whether it only became necessary to conduct the test when neighbours insisted the "blood-curdling" screams they heard were of Steenkamp, and refused to entertain the possibility they could have been the athlete's.

Barry Bateman is EWN's Pretoria correspondent. Bateman, together with his EWN colleague Mandy Wiener, are writing 'Behind the Door: The Oscar and Reeva Story', which is due to be released soon after the conclusion of the trial. Tweet him @barrybateman

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