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Forensics hold key to Pistorius murder case

Updated: 2014-03-01 08:27
( China Daily)

Fallen South African athletic star Oscar Pistorius will rely on a hand-picked team of forensic experts when he mounts his defense against murder charges at a trial beginning on Monday.

"We are going to see a clash of experts in this case. It is going to be an issue of how the forensics plays out," according to David Klatzow, a South African forensic scientist not linked to the case.

Pistorius is expected to argue he shot his 29-year-old lover through a locked toilet door at his home believing she was an intruder.

 Forensics hold key to Pistorius murder case

Oscar Pistorius crosses the line to win gold in the men's 400m T44 final at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Ian Kington / Agence France-Presse

The prosecution will use forensics to show that, far from being scared, Pistorius fired at Reeva Steenkamp from a close distance, repeatedly and with premeditation.

"The precise positions at which the shots were fired; the grouping of the shots; the number of shots that were fired," are among the key points to be raked over by experts, according to Klatzow.

"Ballistic evidence is going to show that Oscar was very close to the door and that is going to be a difficult thing, I think, for him to explain away.

"It doesn't make sense to approach the danger more closely," said Klatzow.

"His next problem is he fired so many shots," he said. "He will have difficulty justifying the reasonableness of firing four shots."

To address those problems, Pistorius will call on at least four forensic scientists, ranging in expertise from guns to blood splatter, to testify in his defense.

The all South African forensic team includes forensic geologist Roger Dixon, private forensic pathologist Reggie Perumal, and gun experts Thomas Wolmarans and Jannie van der Westhuizen.

Team Pistorius is unusual for its size and depth in South Africa, a country with a 25 percent unemployment rate where the average annual income is about $9,500.

"It is a question of resources," said Stephen Tuson, criminal law adjunct professor at the University of Wit-watersrand in Johannesburg.

"Many trials are run with the barest minimum of forensic evidence, a post-mortem report by the pathologist and maybe a few photographs."

It makes sense Pistorius hired people from his own country, said Michael Baden, a forensic expert speaking from New York.

"In my experience, the local experts are given more credibility by judges ... than someone who could be called a carpet bagger or hired gun," said Baden, author of Dead Reckoning: The New Science of Catching Killers.

But Pistorius also looked overseas for help and has hired The Evidence Room, an American forensic animation firm, to digitally recreate the crime scene using computer animation.

"It is basically a virtual environment, it is just such a great way of explaining things," says Brian Brill, manager at Mountain Graphix, a forensic animation firm in Dillon, Colorado.

(China Daily 03/01/2014 page16)