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Oscar witness: Magazine rack irrelevant

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Pretoria – A defence ballistics expert in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial has told the court that he didn’t take into account some vital pieces of evidence when conducting his analysis.

The magazine rack that could have propped up Reeva Steenkamp’s wounded body after she was first struck by a bullet in the hip was deemed irrelevant by seasoned ballistics expert Wollie Wolmarans, who returned to the stand in the High Court in Pretoria on Monday morning .

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel continued his cross-examination by asking about the tests Wolmarans had conducted on a door similar to the one Pistorius fired through the night he shot and killed Steenkamp.

Nel asked if Wolmarans had consulted with the accused about the athlete’s version of events, but he denied this, saying no one had given him one.

The State’s ballistic expert, Christian Mangena, testified earlier that Pistorius was on his stumps, about one and a half metres from the door. Nel asked if Wolmarans agreed with this, and the expert said he was happy with the distance. Wolmarans also agreed with Mangena’s theory that Pistorius was in a normal firing position – with his arm stretched in front of him, the gun pointing forward.

Mangena used laser equipment to determine the bullet trajectory for the four shots. While Mangena believed the second bullet had created the ricochet point on the toilet cubicle wall, Wolmarans said that there were other shots that could have hit at almost the same point.

He said his analysis of the second bullet couldn’t exactly match with the ricochet point.

Wolmarans was asked why he’d conducted a second test, and he said it was to record rapid fire against the door, as they could not conduct this test the first time.

Pistorius has claimed he fired four times in rapid succession the night of the shooting.

When the defence team conducted sound tests, to determine if the sound of a cricket bat striking the door could sound similar to a firearm, Nel said that background noises of crickets could be heard in this recording. The prosecutor asked if a second test was conducted to work around these background noises. Wolmarans said he didn’t know why, but that it probably wasn’t necessary. He told the court he was not a sound expert, and couldn’t comment.

Nel then returned to the small wounds found on Steenkamp’s back. On Friday, Nel and the expert debated whether the marks could have been caused by bullet fragments ricocheting off the wall. Last week, Wolmarans said the wooden magazine rack in the cubicle could have caused the marks if Steenkamp fell on it. But on Monday morning he said the rack could not have caused the striation marks on the wounds, because the rack had a smooth surface.

Nel then asked about a meeting Wolmarans had with a previous defence witness, Roger Dixon.

Dixon left the stand towards the end of March, and Wolmarans met with him for a meal directly after. Wolmarans said the pair had an informal discussion, possibly including aspects of the case.

He then confirmed that the first bullet hole was responsible for striking Steenkamp in the hip. Wolmarans confirmed that in his notes from November last year, he had noted this finding for himself. However, at that point, he said he did not have a view on which of the other three bullets caused Steenkamp’s other injuries.

Wolmarans returned to his original theory that after sustaining the hip wound, she collapsed inside the cubicle. It was as she was falling that she was hit in the arm and head.

The State’s version was that after being hit on the hip, she landed on the magazine rack, propped up into the line of fire where she was hit again.

Nel asked if Steenkamp could have been seated when the firing began, and Wolmarans said this was not a possibility. Wolmarans then said it was not possible to know if Steenkamp could have been propped up by the rack based on his findings.

He also said he wasn’t sure if Steenkamp would have been at the correct height for the third and fourth bullets to have hit her, as Mangena believed.

Wolmarans then said he agreed with Dixon’s testimony that the rack had been moved from its original position, based on a track in the pool of blood below it.

But Nel was concerned that Wolmarans’s reconstruction of the events had not taken the rack’s position into account.

The expert said it didn’t really matter.

Wolmarans then detailed his numerous visits to the crime scene for his analysis.

Nel asked if Wolmarans had had any proficiency tests on ballistics since he left the police force in 1992. The expert said he had not.

In his re-examination, defence advocate Barry Roux asked if Mangena had taken into account in his report if any of the bullets could have struck the ricochet point.

Wolmarans said no.

The expert added that using his own probes – wooden sticks stuck into the bullet holes – he could show that the bullets’ trajectories could have been either upwards on downwards.

He then said the laser equipment didn’t take this into account.

Wolmarans then told the court that with the first bullet fired, Pistorius had likely aligned his gun’s sight, but it wasn’t possible to tell if he had on all four bullets.

Wolmarans told the court that regarding the cricket bat test, he was willing to set up the shooting range so that Judge Thokozile Masipa could hear for herself the similarities between the bat strikes and bullets firing.

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