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Pistorius' legal team launches heated defence

ESPN staff
February 20, 2013
A representative diagram details the basic layout of Oscar Pistorius' bathroom, and the angle at which he is believed to have fired © Getty Images

Investigating officer Hilton Botha claimed Oscar Pistorius knew it was girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp he was shooting on the day of her murder, but was later forced to admit he could not find anything at the crime scene inconsistent with Pistorius' accidental shooting defence, on a heated second day at the 26-year-old's bail hearing.

Botha was examined by the prosecution and the defence, the latter of which tore into the senior investigating officer, highlighting holes in a witness statement made from 600 metres away, while forcing him to backtrack on claims that Pistorius had testosterone and needles in the house.

Pistorius, charged with premeditated murder and facing new charges of possession of unlicenced ammunition, wept as Botha said gunshots were fired in a "downwards" direction at Steenkamp, raising doubts over Pistorius' claim that he used the firearm to defend himself while not wearing his prosthetic blades. Botha concluded there was "no way" the 26-year-old could have mistakenly shot Steenkamp as an act of self-defence.

However, the defence was able to force Botha to admit Steenkamp had an empty bladder at the time of the murder, consistent with the claim that she had been going to the toilet when Pistorius mistook her for an intruder. In a series of climbdowns, Botha also had to confess he did not check to see if Pistorius had called the local hospital in a bid to rescue Steenkamp.

The Prosecution

Botha spoke first to the prosecution on Wednesday morning, detailing his findings and opposing bail as Pistorius sobbed in his seat. Botha said he found Steenkamp - covered in towels - lying dead at the bottom of the stairs wearing white shorts and a black vest. Three entrance wounds were found on her body: one on the right side of her head above her ear, one in her right arm, and one at her hip. The shots went through her clothes.

Botha described the layout of Pistorius' house and bathroom where parts of the toilet door - leading to a separate room for the toilet - were found on the floor along with cartridges and a firearm. He said shots were aimed directly at the toilet, which was broken and off-centre in the room and therefore would not have been hit if shots had been fired straight at the door. "You'd miss it", Botha said. The defence argued there was no proof to suggest bullets were fired at an angle.

Given that the wounds appeared on the right side of Steenkamp's body, it was Botha's findings that she would have been cowering in the corner of the toilet room - not taking a comfort break, and the gunman walked into the bathroom before firing four shots through the toilet door.

Botha revealed Ballistics are still dealing with the angles of the projectiles fired, but said it seemed the shots were fired downwards from a "normal stance", raising serious question marks over Pistorius' claim that he fired shots while not wearing his blades. He also said there was no way out of the toilet.

Botha then turned his attention to findings of testosterone, needles and injections at Pistorius' house. The defence later answered the finding of medication by saying it was a herbal remedy called testoconpasutium, "not a steroid or a banned substance". Botha confessed he had not read the label correctly.

Gerrie Nel, prosecuting lawyer, poured doubt on Pistorius' concerns of death threats by pointing out that, while he kept a gun under his bed, he wasn't concerned enough to close the balcony doors when he went to bed. Botha also addressed Pistorius' claim that ladders were found outside the house, revealing the house was being painted, and he also rejected Pistorius' claim that they were near the bathroom.

Next he raised the witness statement, saying: "We have a statement from a witness who says she heard a fight from 2-3am on the morning of shooting. Then gunshots." The witness, contrary to the account of Pistorius, said lights were on when a female was heard screaming.

However, under cross-examination from the defence, Botha was forced to admit that the witness lived 600 metres away from Pistorius' house and got the number of shots wrong. Gasps, at that point, filled the court room.

Adding background to Botha's understanding of Pistorius' character, he revealed an encounter when the South African had a row with a man over a woman, threatening to "F*ck him up." He also said he has a statement from a former football player, Marc Batchelor, who says Pistorius threatened to break his legs.

Botha concluded his time with the prosecution by stating his belief that Pistorius knew Steenkamp was in the bathroom when he fired four shots. "No way" was it self-defence, Botha said.

The Defence

The defence then sent Botha on the back foot when forcing him to admit that, contrary to previous claims, Pistorius gave his account - believing there to be a burglar at the house - at the scene. The defence also questioned how Botha could know the distance the bullets travelled, to which he replied that he had some experience in forensics.

Barry Roux, the defence lawyer, questioned how one firearm cartridge was found in the passageway, if all shots were fired from the wash basin inside the bathroom.

Crucially, Roux also highlighted Steenkamp's empty bladder, and that she had locked the toilet door, consistent with the suggestion that Pistorius fired mistakenly at his girlfriend after she had gone for a middle-of-the-night comfort break.

Under further examination, Botha was forced to admit he did not check whether Pistorius had called Netcare Hospital upon finding Steenkamp, a call that did take place at 3.20am. Roux also highlighted that Steenkamp's autopsy showed no sign of defensive wounds, struggle or an assault.

The defence concluded by having Botha admit he could not find anything at the crime scene inconsistent with Pistorius' version of events. The court then adjourned for lunch.

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