Oscar Trial – Day 8, March 12 FRESCO, VERMEULEN

Darren Fresco is back on the stand. Nel has more questions for him.

When they were driving to the Vaal River, where did Oscar keep his gun? Darren said between his legs on the seat, no holster.
Nel also wants to know if Oscar ever asked Darren to slow down during that trip. Darren states no, he didn’t. He never complained about the speed.

Then he asks Darren if he had taken any pictures of a speedometer that day and Darren says he took a picture of the speedometer when Oscar was driving to the Vaal. He was driving very fast, over the 250kph mark (150mph).

As for the tickets that they received from the police that day, did Oscar offer to pay? He said no.

In Tasha’s Restaurant, why did you pass your gun to accused?
Darren says because Oscar asked to see it. There would have been no other reason to give it to him. And the gun did not fall out of his shorts. He only told that story to cover for Oscar.

He was then asked if he had any contact with Samantha Taylor since the shooting on February 14, 2013. He states that he has not seen her since that date up until two days ago when he saw her in the witness room.

Roux is up. He presents to the court a photograph of the speedometer that was taken at 16:41 (4:41pm) on the day of the Vaal trip and it’s a picture that Darren took of the speedometer while he was driving on the way home. He texted this picture to Oscar. Therefore, he states that Darren was lying when he said that Oscar was driving 150mph, it was actually Darren and he photographed himself doing that speed. Darren basically just says that he doesn’t remember that but if they have a picture then ok.

Darren is excused.

The next witness up is Lt Colonel Vermeulen. His career in forensics started in 1992.

Vermeulen was sent to Oscar’s house to investigate on March 8, 2013, along with other experts. He was specifically requested to perform testing on the cricket bat and the toilet room door. He also was asked if he could ascertain the cause of the bending of the metal plate on the outside of the bathtub.

When they arrived at Oscar’s house the door was not in the frame. The door was brought to the scene by one of the investigators and they attached it back to the doorframe and glued the broken out panels in to place.

Vermeulen wants to clarify that on March 8th, his purpose for being there was to accustom himself to the scene. He did not do his own testing at the scene. He did it at a later time in the laboratory.

On April 26, 2013, he received the metal plate from the bathroom tub and the cricket bat (both in sealed packages) from the forensics laboratory. He examined the metal plate first. His conclusion was that the plate became bent as a result of either being hit or something falling on it. It had to be a hard enough object to cause a scratch in the metal. The scratch was in a vertical direction. They were never able to ascertain the object that hit it.

silver-plate-in-bathroom

Vermeulen also had an opportunity to do testing on the door at the laboratory along with the cricket bat.

door at laboratory

This image shows one of the cricket bat strikes that hit the outside frame of the door – the white marker is directly to the right of the mark

door with white marker

The next images show how the bat hit that mark

bat hitting the first spot

The marks are located 1400-1530mm (approximately 5 feet) up from the ground. The investigation revealed that the cricket bat made a definitive match with the dent in the door.

Vermeulen first demonstrates where the bat hit while standing. Looking at that image, you can see how he would most likely have to crouch to hit that spot. So he then demonstrates what it looks like to hit that spot from his knees (simulating being on stumps) and it was a very natural swing that hit that spot.

Vermeulen does not believe that Oscar was wearing prosthetics when he used the bat. He believes he was on stumps. In Oscar’s testimony he states that after he shot Reeva (from his stumps) that he put on his prosthetics before he broke the door with the cricket bat. This is inconsistent with what the investigator is concluding.

The next bat strike was right next to the other one but landed right on the edge of the door panel, and went thru the door. There are marks and coloration on the bat that support the bat went thru the door at that location. The bat was then twisted back and forth while in the door to break out the panel.

bat hitting second spot

close up of second bat strike

another close up of bat strike

Roux cross-examines. He wants to know if Vermeulen is a certified tool mark examiner. He states no, but the technique that he used was that of a physical match which is very similar to a tool mark examination.

Roux asks him if he is of the opinion that Oscar was on his stumps at the time of the bullets being shot and Vermeulen testifies, yes, that he was there when ballistics tests were done, and he agrees that Oscar was on his stumps at the time of the shooting.

Roux going back to the cricket bat again asks Vermeulen to get on his knees and lift his feet while he swings the bat and while Vermeulen does this, he is off balance. Roux wants to demonstrate that it would be difficult for Oscar to swing that bat while on stumps as he would not be able to adequately keep himself upright.

Vermeulen counters that if he had enough balance to fire a gun while on stumps then he would likely have enough balance to hit the door with the bat on stumps.

They now review the forensic evidence collection and storage procedures. The rubber handle that was originally on the cricket bat is not on the bat in court, and Roux wants to know where it is. Vermeulen cannot testify to that. He received it from the laboratory without the rubber handle. He believes it was removed to be finger printed.

It was then revealed that the investigator who had custody of the door from the date of the crime up until March 8 (when they brought it back to the scene) kept the door in his office. It was not properly wrapped for storage. Roux states that he has compared the door to the photos from the crime scene and there are now new marks on the door and he wants to identify where they came from.

Vermeulen did not compare the door to crime scene photos when he examined and tested it. It is then pointed out by Roux that pieces of the door are missing and Vermeulen testifies that most likely pieces were left behind at the crime scene. Vermeulen states he wasn’t there at the crime scene when the door was collected so he cannot explain why pieces are missing. Roux wants to know if he ever asked anybody for the missing pieces and Vermeulen did not.

It sure does seem like the handling of this door was not done well by the investigators and Roux is doing an excellent job at attacking their work.

Roux now disputes that Oscar had to be on his stumps at the time of swinging the bat. Again, this point is important because Oscar’s statement says he was on his prosthetics. He has Vermeulen try out a few different stances so they can achieve the same mark on the door.

Roux positioning for bat strike

Vermeulen states that he’s in an unnatural position when he hits it. He does not think that somebody would stand like this. Roux says it may be uncomfortable for him but perhaps it wasn’t an uncomfortable stance for Oscar.

Roux asks Vermeulen, “when was the door hit with the cricket bat, before or after the gunshots?”

Vermeulen answers, “after the shots, or at least some part of it broke after the shots.” He came to this conclusion because one of the broken pieces of the door panel had a crack straight through a bullet hole. The way the crack ran through the hole would make it impossible for the shot to go through after.

Roux now points out another mark on the door that is not a bullet shot or a cricket bat strike and he wants to know if they investigated it to see what caused it.

Vermeulen says they noticed it but they did not investigate it. He was only asked to investigate the cricket bat marks.

Vermeulen suggests that Oscar may have stepped on that panel when he was pulling Reeva out of the toilet room and moving through the bathroom.

Roux states that they tested the wood and there are fibers from Oscar’s sock embedded in that wood. There is also door varnish on the prosthesis. He believes this will prove that Oscar used his prosthetics to try to knock the door down (prior to the cricket bat) as he stated in his affidavit.

Vermeulen states again that it may be possible that there are traces of prosthetic on the door but he cannot prove when that would have happened in relation to all of the events.

Roux seems pretty ticked that the police did not investigate the possibility that the prosthetic caused this mark, but Vermeulen states that his responsibility was to investigate the cricket bat. He had not reviewed Oscar’s statement prior to any testing so he did not know that Oscar claimed to use his prosthetic leg to kick in the door.

I will say, just because the accused gives a statement, the police are not obligated to try to make his statement fit the crime scene. Their job is to investigate the crime scene to see what the evidence tells them. Not what the accused tells them. If the defense wants to introduce this theory, they need to do their own testing and bring it to trial, which they have done. I do get though why Roux is criticizing Vermeulen for this. It’s a good tactic for a jury trial. Jurors would likely think that is poor police work. But in this case, the Judge is deciding the verdict so I would think this particular argument is falling on deaf ears. She understands how investigators do their work.

Back to the handling of the door again. Roux is really hammering this home. There are pieces that are missing from it while it is here in court today that were not missing before.. Roux would like to know what happened to those pieces. Also, there are pretty distinct marks just to the left of the door handle that were not on there on March 8. Vermeulen is really stumbling here. He can’t answer these questions. On these points, he is making the police work very sloppy. It’s unfortunate because this door is such an important piece of the story.

He will be back on the stand tomorrow. NOTE: the ballistics evidence for the four bullet holes that are seen in the door has not been introduced at trial yet.

door 2

Below is a replica of the toilet room as seen in court

door 3

Oscar Trial – Day 7, March 11 – Med Examiner SAAYMAN, FRESCO

Dr. Saayman, the Medical Examiner, is back on the stand.

The Judge starts the day by announcing that live tweets are now allowed. They are still going to black out the video and audio testimony, but journalists inside the court can live tweet.

Roux is setting up a defense that Oscar shot Reeva in quick succession rendering her unable to scream out before the head shot left her incapacitated. This would explain why according to Oscar’s version of the story, Reeva never made any noise at all that night.

However Saayman does not think this is possible. The following are points from his testimony that have been compiled from various reporters in the courtroom:

In the immediate seconds after being shot, mental incapacitation would be minimal, that comes later. The shot to the brain however would cause immediate incapacitation.

Screaming is still possible even after cognitive dysfunction, it would be normal.
By cognitive dysfunction, I refer to higher mental capacity. Screaming is not higher mental capacity.

If someone knows their life is in danger, the stress response, or fight or flight, starts to kick in. In a scenario like this, before somebody is about to sustain a gunshot wound, adrenaline and other kinds of hormones would kick in.

Saayman: “I think it would be abnormal if one did not scream after sustaining an injury of this nature.”

Another item that was hotly discussed prior to trial is whether or not Reeva had urine in her bladder when examined. The defense theory is that if the bladder is empty, she was just using the bathroom to relieve herself that night.

There was a small amount of urine found in her bladder.
It was murky, which is a result of cells becoming loose from the bladder.

Even if Reeva had urinated an hour before her death, her bladder could still have been empty. Many factors contribute to this including how well hydrated the person was.

As for stomach contents, her last meal consisted of vegetables and a small amount of white substance that looked like cheese.

Most meals will be digested in four hours. (1-3 hours for small/average meal, 3-5 for medium meal, 5-8 for large meal, according to medical journals.)

Based on what was found in her stomach and quantity, doctor estimates that she ate approximately 2 hours prior to death. Her death was estimated around 3:15am-3:20am. Therefore, she would have likely eaten after midnight. Oscar claims in his statement that they went to sleep at 10pm.

The defense argument from Roux is that this is an imperfect science. There is no definitive way to say for sure. Dr. Saayman states that although he is not an expert in the digestion field, he has done 10-15,000 autopsies and has read numerous medical journals on this subject. Clearly he has the experience to accurately approximate these details.

The doctor’s testimony today appeared to be strong for the Prosecution. They were able to establish that screaming from Reeva was possible during the shots, Reeva may have urinated up to one hour before death (not immediately before death), and that she ate 2 hours before death (meaning she may not have gone to bed at 10pm as Oscar states).

Dr. Saayman is excused.

The next witness is Darren Fresco.
Darren is the friend who was with Oscar when his gun accidentally went off in Tashas Restaurant and when Oscar allegedly shot his gun out of the car sunroof.

The Judge addresses Darren and warns him that he only gets immunity if he does not lie to the court. Darren does not face any serious charges, just a charge of not reporting the incidents with the firearms. But if he honestly testifies today, he can avoid any trouble.

Darren and Oscar were friends and have known each other for seven years. He knows Samantha Taylor, Oscar’s ex-girlfriend, through Oscar.

Nel inquires about the incident that happened after the Vaal River trip when he, Oscar and Samantha were in the car together. Darren states he was pulled over for speeding by metro police. He was asked to step out of the vehicle. While Darren was talking to police, Oscar decides to exit the vehicle to inquire about what is taking so long. Samantha is in the back seat.

Meanwhile, another metro police officer drives up, looks into the car and picks up Oscar’s gun which was on the seat. Oscar then has a verbal altercation with the officer. Oscar tells the officer that you can’t touch another man’s gun. The original officer attempts to diffuse the situation.

The officer had cleared the chamber of the gun and the bullets fell out in to the car.

Oscar is still arguing with the officer and tells the officer that his fingerprints are now on the gun and he will be liable for whatever happens with it.

The officers ask for Oscar’s drivers license. Darrin goes around to the other side of the car, scratches around in the back seat, finds the bullet and gives it back to Oscar.
Darren assumes that Oscar puts the bullet back in the gun, although he does not see him do it.

More officers now arrive on the scene. They had been chasing Darren since the toll plaza. Darren is issued with a speeding ticket and they leave. I have to wonder, how did they not get in trouble, or even arrested, for their behavior? I somehow get the feeling that we are not hearing the entire story on this. It will be interesting to see if the officers who wrote the ticket will testify about the incident.

Darren states that Oscar was furious that the officer had touched his gun.

They proceed to a house per Oscar’s request so they can handle some matter with a firearm, something about paperwork or license. He’s not sure exactly what Oscar needed to do there nor did he know the people who owned the house. After they are done there, something happens on the next part of the drive.

Without warning, Oscar fires his gun thru the sunroof, just a whisker from Darren’s left ear. (Darren is driving, the steering wheel is on the right side of the car.) Instinctively he pulls his body to the right and ducks down. It happened very rapidly and without warning.

Darren apologizes in advance to the Judge for his language and states that he yelled at Oscar “are you fucking mad?”

Darren states it felt like his ear was bleeding. He had a constant ringing in his ear. Oscar just laughed about what had happened. Afterwards they just kept driving but they didn’t discuss it. This seems highly odd to me. How could they not discuss that?

Darren confirms the location that this happened on an aerial photo. And then on to the next gun incident.

Darren states that he, Oscar, Kevin Lerena and Martin Rooney all go out to lunch at Tashas Restaurant on a Friday afternoon in January 2013. He is shown a photo and establishes where everybody was seated at the table. Oscar and Martin are on one side of the booth and Kevin and Darren are on the other side. Oscar is sitting diagonal from Darren.

Oscar asks Darren to pass him his firearm. It is a Glock 27, 40 caliber. Darren doesn’t know why he asked to see it. Darren takes the gun out from its carrying position, leans forward to get closer to Oscar and then hands him the gun under the table. Knowing that Oscar was competent with guns, he simply says “it’s one up”, meaning that there is one bullet in the chamber.

Darren had been to the shooting range with Oscar and knew that he had a “deep love” for guns (quote from Darren). So he reiterates that he did not question his competency.

At that point, he saw a shoulder movement from Oscar that he thought was taking the bullet out of the chamber. He could not see what Oscar was doing under the table, but that’s what he assumed he was doing at the time.

Instantly, the gun goes off and the deepest silence ensues after this very loud sound. No one knew where the bullet went. They were all frightened out of their minds. They decide to just carry on like nothing has happened, hoping that people will think it’s something else like a gas explosion. My own interjection here, these guys sound like a bunch of totally immature and reckless idiots!

Oscar then passes the weapon back to Darren and instantly asks Darren to take the rap for it since he has too much media attention around him. Darren says he will, being a friend.

The owner’s wife storms up and asks what happened. Darren tells her he made a mistake and apologizes. Says his gun fell out of his shorts. He says the same thing to the male owner when he comes to the table.

The stories from Kevin Lerena and Darren largely match each other. They are inconsistent on who came over to the table first, the husband owner or the wife owner. Also, Darren never mentions anything about Oscar apologizing to all of the guys at the table, asking them if they were all ok. According to Darren, Oscar gives no explanation at all. Other than that, the majority of the story matches Kevin Lerena’s account.

Shrapnel hit Kevin Lerena either on the foot or the shin, he wasn’t sure exactly where, and there were a few drops of blood that he could see. Darren told him to keep his foot down and not draw attention to it.

Darren states that he is the one who offered to pay for the damage that was caused by the bullet (not Oscar).

Roux now cross-examines.

They discuss that Darrin had sought legal advice over this situation. Darren admits he did not want to get in trouble so he had a lawyer help him with his statement, knowing that it would be used against Oscar in his trial.

According to Darren, Oscar did say “I’m sorry” on the way out of the restaurant but didn’t say anything else to the owners.

Roux is making a big deal over who came to the table first, the husband or the wife, to show that Darren’s story is not accurate but it’s somewhat of an irrelevant point. Darren is sticking to his version.

Roux now wants Darren to consider that Oscar may not have heard Darren tell him it was one up. Darren doubts this. He acknowledges that it was a noisy restaurant but he also heard Oscar say “ok” in response. Interestingly enough, Kevin Lerena heard him say “one up”, so why wouldn’t Oscar hear him?

Back to the Vaal River trip. Darren explains that they were actually stopped on two occasions that day. The first time was for some time of number/tag violation after they left the river. He did get a ticket for this incident as well and the fine has been paid by the dealership.

Roux wants to know why the dealership is paying these fines for him and Darren can’t answer his question. Upon prompting, Darren states that Justin Devaris is the owner of the dealership. (Justin is one of Oscar and Darren’s buddies. And I too wonder why Darren would give him the tickets to pay?) Roux then insinuates that these fines actually have not been paid and the topic is dropped. It doesn’t really have much relevance but it does dig in to Darren’s credibility.

Roux asks Darren if he was doing 250kph that day? (which is roughly 150mph on an American speedometer.) Darren says he can’t remember. Roux then says, so you can’t deny it? And Darren says how can I deny it if I can’t remember? Then Roux counters back, surely you would remember if you were doing 150mph. Darren again says he can’t remember. It’s very obvious here (at least to me) that he’s not being truthful about that. Best way to get out of something in court is to just say you don’t remember.

At Roux’s request, Darren then clarifies that the sunroof gun shooting incident happened after the 2nd time that they were stopped, which was much later in their ride home, after they had stopped at that house to get Oscar’s gun papers.

They went to the Gourmet Garage for dinner afterwards. Oscar discussed golf with two elderly people in the restaurant. Then they left in the same car they arrived in. Darren doesn’t remember anything else after this. This is important to Roux because early the next day, Oscar was in Scotland playing golf. The fact that both Samantha Taylor and Darren can’t fully remember what happened later that night is raised as a red flag to this incident. Why can’t anybody remember what they did that night after dinner? It is an interesting point.

Roux points out the discrepancies between he and Samantha’s testimony: Samantha did not mention that they were stopped twice, she said Oscar was told to get out of the vehicle by the officers (not that he got out on his own), she claimed that Oscar said he was going to shoot a robot and both he and Darren laughed and that the shot happened shortly after they were stopped (not after they went to the house about the gun papers.) Darren doesn’t recall the incident this way.

Roux tells Darren that Oscar denies he fired a shot and Darren tells the Judge that is incorrect.

Overall, the Defense did well with this witness. Roux drew out a lot of inconsistencies and Darren came across pretty smug. It’s hard to tell if the inconsistencies are because he has a bone to pick with Oscar (whom he is no longer friends with), or if because Samantha is lying (she also has a bone to pick), or if he is trying to save his own backside from some of the stupid things that they have all done together. My take is that these gun incidents did probably happen but elements of them are either being embellished or suppressed because they all acted foolishly and don’t want to get in trouble or make themselves look bad.

This witness doesn’t have a direct effect on the premeditated murder charge, only the other gun related charges which he is accused of.

Court is adjourned for the day.