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Africa

Day 8 of Pistorius' trial hinges on bathroom door

A police expert testifying at the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius says the South African athlete was on his stumps and not wearing his artificial limbs when he hit a door with a cricket bat. The defense disputes this.

Forensic expert Gerhard Vermeulen told the Pretoria court that double-amputee Olympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius is unlikely to have had his prostheses on when he broke down the bathroom door through which he says he shot Reeva Steenkamp.

This contradicts an earlier account given by Pistorius, who said he had put on his prostheses and tried to kick the door open before hitting it with a cricket bat.

The 27-year-old is charged with the premeditated murder of Steenkamp, who was shot dead in the athlete's Pretoria home in February of last year. Pistorius has pleaded not guilty to the premeditated murder charge.

The athlete says he thought a burglar had entered through the bathroom window, fired shots through the locked door and - upon realizing Steenkamp was in the bathroom - bashed the door with a cricket bat in an attempt to rescue her.

Height of the blows

Vermeulen showed the bat to the court and demonstrated how Pistorius hit the door. Marks on the door and in the bathroom were consistent with the door having been hit with the cricket bat, but the height of the blows indicated that Pistorius was on his leg stumps, Vermeulen said.

Pistorius' lawyer, Barry Roux, disputed this.

Oscar Pistorius Prozess 12.03.2014

A door and a cricket bat were part of the proceedings in the trial of Oscar Pistorius on Wednesday

"Have you tested that a person standing on stumps like you would stand on your knees and trying to have some balance and hitting the door with the bat?" he asked.

However, Vermeulen did concur with the defense about the order of events as given by Pistorius.

"I would say the door was hit after the shots," Vermeulen told the court.

Questioning by Roux revealed that police missed crucial evidence and stepped on the bathroom door through which Pistorius had fired the fatal shots.

Under cross-examination, Vermeulen conceded the door may have been mishandled and that his investigation missed fragments of the door on the ground which could have provided further evidence.

Weight of evidence

The trial, which began on March 3, is expected to last until March 20. DW correspondent Thuso Khumalo said many South Africans following the trial are expressing concern about whether the judge will be able weigh the “tons of arguments” and arrive at a fair verdict.

There is no trial by jury under South African law.

Pistorius, whose legs were amputated at the knee because of a congenital abnormality before he was one year old, became the first amputee to compete against able-bodied athletes in the London Olympics in 2012.

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