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Police ‘mishandled’ evidence in Pistorius murder case

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-03-14

The officer who arrested Oscar Pistorius on the night Reeva Steenkamp was killed last year testified Friday that police at the crime scene mishandled evidence, including a ballistics expert who handled the murder weapon without gloves.

Former station chief Giliam van Rensburg, who was among the first on the scene of the crime and who arrested Pistorius, retired from the police force last year.

Police conduct following the 2013 Valentine's Day killing could have a strong bearing on the outcome of the trial if the presiding judge, Thokozile Masipa, believes that vital forensic evidence was so tainted as to be inadmissable.

Van Rensburg said he saw one policeman mishandling the murder weapon, a 9mm pistol, which was left on the blood-soaked bathroom mat in Pistorius’ home.

"At that particular moment, the ballistics expert was handling the firearm without gloves," Van Rensburg told the court. He added that the officer had removed the gun’s magazine.

He also told the court that at least one watch, worth as much as $10,000 (€7,000), vanished from the track star’s home while forensic experts were examining a blood-splattered box containing seven other timepieces.

"I saw those watches and I said, this is tempting for any person because this is [sic] expensive watches," he told the court.

Van Rensburg said he reacted with anger when he discovered that a watch was in fact missing.

"I said, 'I can't believe it. We were just there. How can this watch be gone?'"

When searches failed to turn up the missing watch a theft docket was opened, he said, adding: "I was furious."

Contradictory evidence

Under cross-examination, Van Rensburg conceded that there were several contradictions between his statements and those of other police officers at the scene, saying some of his colleagues had submitted hearsay evidence.

He disputed evidence described by the former lead detective on the case, Hilton Botha, and expressed his shock by yelling "Amazing!" when he heard Botha's version of events.

During the athlete's bail hearing last year, Botha admitted that he had walked through the scene without protective footwear and missed identifying a bullet that had lodged in the toilet bowl.

Defence lawyer Barry Roux has previously criticised the police's conduct and the issue is expected to be a key element of the trial as it continues.

Van Rensburg described for the court a series of photos taken at the crime scene shortly after Reeva Steenkamp was shot in the early hours of the morning.

They included nightmare images of the 29-year-old model's fatal head wound and photos of a shirtless Pistorius covered in blood shortly after the shooting.

In several images the athlete is seen standing in his garage, expressionless and staring straight at the camera, wearing blue blood-soaked shorts and with dried blood on his left arm.

Other photos showed the blood-drenched toilet stall where Steenkamp was shot, as well as bullet marks on the wall.

Pistorius, 27, says he shot Steenkamp through the locked bathroom door after he mistook her for an intruder in the middle of the night.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Date created : 2014-03-14


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