True crime and trial opinions from a layman's perspective
June Steenkamp returned to court this week. She has not been present since the first day of trial. Oscar greeted her as he entered court for the day and Aimee Pistorius, Oscar’s sister, also took the opportunity to say hello and presumably offer condolences.
Van Staden is back on the stand. Roux is cross-examining.
Roux reviews some photos of the cricket bat and the gun on the shower mat and points out that the items are lying in different positions from photo to photo, yet these are supposed to be images of how the scene was found (album 1).
He also introduces photos to Van Staden that were taken by another investigator (Motha) on the scene. These images appear to have time stamps that are similar or the same as the time stamps on Van Staden’s photos, therefore indicating that they were both in the same rooms together. Yet, Van Staden had stated that he was photographing alone. He claims to not have seen Motha in these rooms at the same time that he was photographing which seems like it would be impossible. Roux is trying to illustrate that the integrity of the scene may have been jeopardized if multiple people were photographing and moving items.
Nel then counters to save Van Staden on a few points. He did bring up that Motha is not seen in any of Van Staden’s photos. And Van Staden is not seen in any of Motha’s photos. Although, there was one photo that Roux pointed out did have a hand in it, but it was not Van Staden’s photo so he couldn’t confirm whose hand it was.
Nel also revisited the images of the cricket bat that were shown and insinuated had been moved. Upon second look, Nel pointed out that the bat actually was in the same position; it was merely the two differing angles of each photo that created the illusion it had been moved. These are the two photos. Using the blood droplet at the top left of the bat (circled) as your fixed point you can see that the bat is in the same position for both photos.
Overall, it seems as if Van Staden has delivered albums containing quite a bit of detailed information but the question that Roux raises is what elements of that information have been compromised. The early police investigation at the direction of Botha certainly was not as tight as we all would like to have seen. This is a hurdle that the State will have to continue to get past and Roux is doing a good job of making their missteps known. Van Staden is excused.
Next up on the stand is Police Captain Christian Mangena. He has 20 years of experience with the police and 19 years in ballistics. He is qualified as an expert.
On March 7, 2013, he was assigned the Pistorius case after Botha had been dismissed. He was first tasked with examining the door. He received the door evidence sealed in a body bag the same day and began his investigation. He observed 4 bullet holes on the door and marked them A, B, C and D on the side where the bullet perforated the door. The following is an image of the reconstructed door in court.
On March 8, he went to the Pistorius home to recreate the scene. Van Staden was there to photograph and several experts from both the State and the Defense were there that day as well.
The door was reassembled and the same exact screws that originally held the door in place were used to reattach the door. Measurements were then taken. The heights of the bullet holes from the floor are as follows:
A was 93.5cm
B was 104.3cm
C was 99.4cm
D was 97.3cm
Inside the toilet room, the mark E represents a bullet that directly impacted the wall and ricocheted to the other wall at mark F. This bullet did not directly hit Reeva.
E was 89cm from the floor
F was 87.5cm from the floor
E is the mark that is circled on the photo, the damage that can be seen right in the corner of the wall. The other damage is mark F, the ricochet.
There were also traces of lead on the tile that were marked as G. This would have been left from a projectile that has fractured and has lost most of its force therefore leaving a mark on the tile rather than breaking it.
Metal rods were inserted in to the bullet holes from the front of the door where the bullets entered to illustrate the angle and trajectory of the bullets.
Out of the 4 shots, only 1 hit the wall directly and the other 3 disappeared, meaning they hit the person in the room. In order to determine the angle of the shots, Mangena used that 1 direct bullet mark to line up the appropriate hole on the door. The angle was determined to be 5-6% downward. Bullet hole B was in alignment with the hole marked E on the wall.
He also used a laser beam on a tripod to back up his findings from the metal rods. Laser beams cannot bend so they provide a more exact science. He sent the laser beam through the hole applying the same degree of angle that was determined using the rods, and when he did this he got an exact match of bullet hole B in the door and mark E on the wall.
The height of the laser on the tripod was 130cm, with a 5-6% angle downward. The distance from the door to the tripod was 220cm.
Mangena did review the photos of the initial crime scene to understand how everything appeared on that night.
When he arrived at the crime scene on March 8, the magazine rack was not in the toilet room, it had been moved. But by reviewing the crime scene photos, he could see the position of the rack at the time. Fragments of bullet were found directly below the magazine rack.
He also reviewed the photos of the deceased to understand the injuries and the locations of the injuries.
He looked at images of the clothing worn by the deceased. The black tank top had bullet fragment holes in the upper right area surrounded by pieces of tissue and bone.
Nel then asks him if he was interested in seeing the position of the “5” cartridge cases on the scene, and he says yes that’s correct. There were only 4 bullet holes so why 5 cartridges? I wonder if Nel just misspoke or if there is something more we are yet to find out?
Mangena was present at Economics Technologies when Oscar was measured by a doctor. Mangena was aware of Oscar’s version of events, and that Oscar stated he was not wearing his prosthetics at the time of the shooting. Therefore, Mangena had measurements taken to see if he could either confirm or deny this.
With his prosthetics on from head to floor, he is 184cm.
Without prosthetics on from head to floor, he is 155cm.
His shoulder level with prosthetics is 156cm.
His shoulder level without prosthetics is 123cm.
Elbow level with prosthetics is 126cm.
Elbow level without prosthetics is 96cm.
His arm length stretched out with hand gripped as if holding a gun is 66cm.
The prosthetics themselves are 62cm.
The conclusions from this testimony will be presented by Nel tomorrow.
Mangena is back on the stand. He states his opinion is there were 4 shots fired at the crime scene. All 4 bullets perforated the door to the toilet room.
He always relates the body to the crime scene since the crime scene can’t change position, but the body can. He first tried to place Reeva on the toilet seat at the time of the shooting but the wound on her hip did not match up in that position.
He is of the belief that she was in a standing position facing the door, somewhere in between the door and the toilet when she was shot in the hip. This would have been the first shot. He believes bullet hole A is the bullet that entered her hip. The height of bullet A was 93.5cm. The measurement from Reeva’s heel to the wound area on the hip was 93cm. The 5% downward angle could make up for the .5cm difference.
After review of the medical examination, seeing that the hip bone was shattered by this bullet, Reeva would not have been able to stand after that. She would have fallen down. Mangena does not believe that she fell straight down to the flat surface of the ground because the other bullets would have been too high to reach her arm and head. He believes that she fell backwards and landed on top of the magazine rack, and rested on top of the rack.
Bullet B was likely the one that missed her and hit the area marked E on the inside of the toilet room wall, and ricocheted to the mark F on the other side of the wall and broke in to fragments. Those fragments hit Reeva’s back and created the scratches that were found on her back.
He was not able to say if bullet C or bullet D came next. But based on the wounds he could make conclusions about the position of her arms for both shots. Her right arm was raised at the time that it was hit based on the entrance and exit wounds, and the fragment holes and tissue found on her tank top. There was a very large exit wound out the back of the arm that caused the tissue to spatter on the top right of her shirt. It also likely caused the bruising found on her right nipple and abrasions on her torso.
Approximate point for the entry wound on the arm
Approximate point for the exit wound on the arm
The area where bullet fragments, bone and tissue would have damaged the tank top and caused abrasions the deceased.
With the head wound, her hands were very likely held up across her head in a defensive position, as there was a bullet wound in between her pointer and middle finger on her left hand.
Mangena demonstrates the likely position.
And this is Mangena showing the approximate location where the bullet entered her head (his pointer finger) and exited her head (his thumb)
The bullet that entered her head broke in to two fragments. One piece was removed during the autopsy and the other piece exited the back of the head and left the mark on the wall, noted as G.
He believes that when the bullet hit the head she would have immediately fell to the right and landed on top of the toilet seat. A large amount of blood and brain tissue was found on and in the toilet, and a large pool of blood was also found just to the left of the toilet near the magazine rack.
Her upper body was likely located between the toilet and the magazine rack, and her lower body was on top of the magazine rack.
He also testified that he examined the door for propellant particles to determine the distance that the shots were fired from. Based on his testing he concluded that Oscar could have been anywhere from 60cm (the length of the muzzle) to the back wall (3 meters from door). He was not able to determine an exact distance.
As for the position of the cartridge cases, he was not able to tell exactly where Oscar was standing for each shot because they were so scattered at the scene. Based on the fact that there was a lot of movement in the bathroom after the shooting, they were likely kicked around.
He also tested for deflection of the bullets as they penetrated through the door, using Black Talon bullets for his testing. He determined that there was very minimal deflection.
The Black Talon bullet will not open up when it hits a hard target. It requires a moist target such as human tissue in order for it to expand. A normal bullet such as a full metal jacket can easily hit multiple targets. It can go through a person and hit something or someone else. But the Black Talon is designed to expand with sharp edges inside of the target. It enters in a spinning motion and the sharp talons cut through tissue and bone, also causing fragmentation, and the bullet then loses most of its force inside of the body.
Based on the measurements that were taken of the bullet holes in the door compared to the measurements of Oscar with and without his prosthetics (provided above), he was able to conclude that Oscar was likely on his stumps, not his prosthetics, at the time of the shooting.
Mangena also testified to how a Glock pistol works. He stated that all calibers of Glock work the same. There is a built in safety mechanism with the Glock and it will not fire just by simply touching the trigger. There are a few different things that you need to do first (i.e. pull slide back and then bring it all the way back forward) before it will shoot. This relates to the shooting at Tashas. Nel is again demonstrating that Oscar should have known how that gun worked and there should not have been that accident.
Next, Mangena talks about how dangerous it is to fire a bullet up in to the air, relating to the sunroof shooting charge that Oscar has against him. He explained how with the force of gravity, and depending on what angle you shoot it up, in almost all instances it will come back down with a force great enough to penetrate and kill a human.
Roux cross-examines Mangena and states that Oscar’s position is that he did 2 double tap shots with his gun on February 14. Not 4 separate shots, but 2 double taps. This is when you tap the trigger twice in close succession. Per Mangena, this is not something that everyone can do. A skilled shooter such as himself, who shoots competitively, is able to do a double tap but he’s not so sure that Oscar could.
Based on Reeva’s wounds, Mangena testifies that double taps would be impossible. All of her wounds would have been in one vicinity of the body based on how quickly those bullets would have been fired. She would not have had the single hip wound and then subsequent wounds in different locations from different angles. So there must have been a pause in between that first shot and the series of the next 3 shots. This aligns with the ear witnesses Burger and Johnson who heard an initial gunshot, then a pause, and then 3 more shots.
Roux revisits the hip and arm wounds and seems to be suggesting that the Defense’s position will be that Reeva was bending over when she was shot in the hip and her arm was very close to the door, due to the splinters that were found lodged in her arm. Mangena strongly disagrees, feels the splinters would still be there if she was further back against the toilet room wall. He also does not agree that she was bent over.
One final point that Roux makes; the Defense found one spent bullet inside of the toilet and two bullet fragments inside the magazine rack that the initial investigators on the scene did not find. Mangena is aware of this.
Mangena is excused.
The next witness is Colonel van der Nest. He is stationed at the Forensic Science Laboratory – Victim Identification Center. Previously he worked at the Biology Unit responsible for crime scene investigation, including blood spatter analysis. He has 20 years of experience at the Forensic Science Laboratory and has completed over 1,300 investigations.
He was instructed by his commander on February 14, to attend an autopsy for Reeva on the following day. He was requested to assist in measuring the wounds at the autopsy and evaluate for any potential blunt force trauma. His assignment at the crime scene was also to investigate the possibility of blunt force trauma to the victim based on the extensive staining at the scene and the cricket bat evidence.
He was present for the autopsy on February 15, and he also attended the crime scene that same day. He used blue post-it style labels at the crime scene to indicate areas of interest to him. He uses these because they stand out from the typical white crime scene markers.
The blood spatter that can be seen in this image in the various labeled areas are a combination of arterial spurting, drip staining and contact staining.
The main contributor to the drip trail that was seen on the stairs and throughout the hallways was her blood soaked shorts and her blood soaked long hair. The arterial spurts could have come from two of the wounds – either the head or the arm, or both.
Next he discusses the findings in the toilet room. Based on the blood spatter on the toilet seat and the particulate of blood, tissue and broken hair on the lid of the toilet seat, he concludes that there was a significant event that occurred to the head in the immediate vicinity of the toilet, with the head coming in contact with the toilet.
The particulate would move in the direction of the force, so for it to land on the toilet seat lid the shot would likely have hit the head in that immediate vicinity. The broken hair is significant because it had some type of force applied to it to cause the breakage and subsequent attachment to the lid, along with the tissue.
He believes that the heavy blood stain pattern on the ground directly next to the toilet is from the arm wound. And the blood and staining on the toilet is from the head. So this aligns with the belief that her head was resting on the toilet and her upper body was resting just along the left side of the toilet. The streaking of the blood on and in the toilet are very consistent with blood soaked hair staining.
Nel wants to know if van der Nest found this type of staining or arterial spurting in any other parts of the toilet room, in particular anything higher than the toilet, and he did not.
There were no foot or shoe marks found inside the toilet room. This is an interesting point. Oscar claims that he had put on his prosthetic legs before he broke down the door to pull Reeva out. How could there be no foot marks found? When I look back at the images of Oscar in his prosthetic legs, I see blood stains on the top of the socks but I do not see stains on the bottom of the socks (at least from the photos that we’ve seen).
When the cricket bat evidence was introduced by Vermeulen, they went to great lengths to demonstrate how Oscar was on his stumps, not his prosthetics, at the time he broke down the door. I’m just not sure how this aids the State or the Defense, other than to discredit Oscar’s story that he put them on after the shooting. We’ll have to wait and see if this comes up again. There surely must be a reason why each side has their stance on this.
Van der Nest’s conclusion on the blunt force trauma is that there were no wounds consistent with it, nor were there blood stains consistent with it in the areas that he investigated.
NOTE: van der Nest did not testify about the blood spatter found on the duvet or the bedroom wall. I’m guessing somebody else will cover that at another time.
On the shorts that Reeva was wearing, there was a defect (hole) in the elastic area of the shorts that was consistent with the hip wound which allows him to conclude that the shorts were in the normal wearing position at the time of the shot. (They were not down around her knees or ankles where they would likely be if she were going to the bathroom.)
There was a transient area of blood in the bathroom outside the toilet room. There was likely a combination of lifting and dragging type movement to move the body from the toilet room out in to the bathroom. She would have been in an intermediate position on the floor of the bathroom for some timeframe long enough to cause the large blood staining seen in the bathroom area – the pool of blood next to the shower mat, the pool of blood next to the towels and the arterial spurting next to the cricket bat.
She then was picked up in the bathroom and carried the rest of the way downstairs.
The blood spatters that were seen on the furniture in the downstairs lounge were a result of arterial spurting that would have occurred from the middle landing of the staircase that looks down on to the lounge area.
Roux cross-examines and reads from van der Nest’s report – “no significant spatter or spurt can be seen on the walls above the toilet which suggests that the deceased was in a low body position and was situated in the vicinity of the toilet bowl in receiving the injuries.” Roux wants to know if van der Nest still confirms that position and he says he does.
Roux also asks him if he is familiar with the term “cast off”… for instance if you have blood on your hands and you move your hands, it can cast off to another location. He says yes, he is familiar with cast off.
Roux then has van der Nest read another excerpt from his statement where he says he has read Oscar’s bail affidavit and agrees that Oscar’s explanation of events is consistent with the blood stain patterns. It is his opinion that those events are the most probable and possible explanation for the observed bloodshed. Roux asks him if this is still his position and he says yes.
No more questions, van der Nest is excused.
The next witness is Colonial Michael Sales. He works at the technological investigation support center of the detective service. He downloads data from phones and other similar devices that are a part of an investigation.
He received an iPad3 on February 18, 2013, in relation to this case and he downloaded the data using a cable as a direct link. He used a forensic tool called XRY. This is a non-destructive process. He does not have the ability to change data that is downloaded. For the purposes of this case, he focused on the web browsing history and the bookmarks. He made a print out of what was found.
The history on this iPad3 began on 6:29pm on February 13, 2013. Therefore, all other web browsing history prior to that day and time was erased by the owner.
According to the history, the last time of use for this iPad was at 9:19pm on February 13. Mr. Sales confirms, by Nel’s prompting, that even though he is focusing on the browsing history and bookmarks, everything from this iPad has been downloaded. He also confirmed that he gave all of the information to the defense, as well as gave the iPad3 device over to the defense when he was done. (I am going to take these bolded statements as a hint of what is to come!)
He next confirms that he also received an iPad2 to process and he downloaded all of the information on that device too. The defense also received a copy of the report for this device, as well as received the actual iPad 2 device.
There were commonalities found on each of these devices meaning that they were accessing some of the same websites on the same days and times. Nel has no more questions.
Roux is taken off guard; he was not expecting this witness and asks for a 5 minute recess. They come back and Roux’s only question is whether or not Mr. Sales can testify as to who was looking at these devices on the date in question, and he agrees that he cannot confirm who the user(s) were. No further questions and the witness is excused.
Nel is definitely up to something. He was extremely vague with this witness and Roux didn’t seem to want to touch him with a ten foot pole.
Nel then makes an argument to the court to request that they break until Monday. Court was due to be dark on Friday anyway for a long holiday weekend, but he’d like to add an extra day to that due to the fact that they are wrapping up their case. They expect to call 4 or 5 more witnesses before turning the case over to the Defense. Now that he has been privy to some of the Defense’s case, and he is nearing his close, he feels it is important to take this time to consult with his remaining witnesses. Roux does not object and the Judge grants his request.
I have a feeling that these next 4 to 5 witnesses are going to be game changers. They really have to be in order to go all the way for premeditation. I believe that the State has started to build a foundation toward premeditation with the following items, but they are not quite there yet:
1. Four separate ear witnesses heard female screams before the gunshots. Three of them heard female screams during the shots.
2. The neighbor, Mrs. van der Mewre, heard arguing starting around 1:56am that night and lasting an hour.
3. Dr. Stipp saw the bathroom light on during the screaming and prior to the last round of gunshots.
4. The Medical Examiner testified to Reeva having eaten 2 hours prior to her death which contradicts the time they reportedly went to bed, 10pm.
5. Mangena’s strong testimony about the order and timing of the gunshots. The hip being first, then a missed shot and then 2 more injuries, showing there was surely time to scream in pain and in fear.
These witnesses, if believed, could illustrate that Oscar and Reeva were up later than Oscar stated, they could have potentially been arguing, that it wasn’t as pitch black as Oscar said it was, that Reeva was not shot in the head on the first shot therefore would have very likely been screaming, and the screams were blood-curdling which completely goes against Oscar’s story about a silent person being in the toilet room.
But… even though this may illustrate that Oscar is lying about his story, it’s still not solid proof that he intended to kill her that night. Look at Casey Anthony’s case. She was proven to have told numerous, grandiose lies during her trial and now she is sipping coffee at Starbucks somewhere out in the world, free as a bird. Being proven a liar in court does not always equal conviction.
Motives don’t have to be proven in murder cases in order to get a conviction, but in some cases they are very necessary to really tell the story. This is one of those cases. There are some elements of Oscar’s story that line up with the physical evidence, which means there could be reasonable doubt as to whether or not premeditated murder actually occurred.
With the absence of any indication that there were problems in their relationship, or the absence of a specific problem that they were having on that night, it is a real stretch to just assume that he killed her in cold blood. Just the same way that the jurors in the Anthony case could not connect Anthony’s wild behavior after Caylee’s death with her intentions on the actual day of the murder.
Now, with that said… there have been teasers throughout the State’s presentation that there was a fight or altercation that evening. They have shown glimpses of blood spatter in locations that are not consistent with the path that Oscar carried the body, they have shown damage to the bedroom door that does not make sense within Oscar’s story, we heard one witness talk about a loud argument starting at 1:56am that night AND we have the iPad and phone data that has yet to be fully explored.
I have to believe for Nel to be so utterly confident in his case for premeditation all along, he has some things that are brewing that he’s ready to reveal next week. He also likely has some goodies for when the Defense is giving their presentation and he can cross-examine their witnesses. We may even see Oscar on the stand as early as next week. One thing is for certain… next week will be a good week to tune in!