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Expert witness for Pistorius blistered again

| Thursday, April 17, 2014, 6:48 p.m.

PRETORIA, South Africa — An expert witness for the defense in the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius was supposed to help the athlete's assertion that he killed his girlfriend by mistake last year. But he ended his testimony on Thursday amid attacks on his credibility by a prosecutor who accused him of slipshod analysis and fuzzy explanations.

Roger Dixon, a former forensic scientist for the South African police, was frequently on the back foot as he tried to fend off sharp questions from chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel, who says Pistorius is lying and fatally shot Steenkamp on purpose after a nighttime argument in his home. For nearly a week, the double-amputee runner was subjected to the same kind of harsh scrutiny when he testified that fear led him to fire four shots through a toilet door at what he thought was an intruder.

Legal analysts say Judge Thokozile Masipa will review the testimony in its totality, which is said to be almost 2,000 pages so far, and that it can be misleading to assess the course of the trial by a single witness. Defense lawyer Barry Roux, for example, hounded police witnesses with questions about alleged mishandling of evidence at the house where Pistorius killed Steenkamp in the early hours of Feb. 14, 2013.

Masipa, who will deliver a verdict on the premeditated murder charge against Pistorius, adjourned the trial until May 5.

Dixon, a geologist at the University of Pretoria, was forced to acknowledge on Wednesday that he had no expertise in light and sound measurement, or on pathology or ballistics, despite his commenting on those topics while testifying about the circumstances of Steenkamp's death.

On Thursday, Nel resumed his attack, criticizing Dixon's work when the geologist did not use Pistorius' exact height when standing on his stumps. The prosecutor questioned why his measurements were eight inches shorter in a test to see whether Pistorius' head and body would have been high enough to be seen by a neighbor through a window of his bathroom.

“It is something I omitted. I overlooked it at the time,” Dixon said, adding that he was not trying to “mislead” the court.

Nel questioned Dixon's statement that he conducted tests showing that Pistorius' bedroom is very dark at night and with the curtains closed, a conclusion that would support the athlete's contention that his inability to see his girlfriend on the night that he killed her contributed to the shooting. Nel noted that Dixon judged how dark it was without using any light-measuring equipment.

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