The magistrate in Carl Pistorius' culpable homicide trial took the entire court to a rural road to measure distances and check evidence Thursday, an unexpected twist to a case that already intrigues many because of the murder charge against Carl's younger brother, Oscar, the superstar double-amputee Olympic athlete who shot dead his girlfriend on Valentine's Day.
Magistrate Buks du Plessis, the state prosecutor, defense lawyers, police officers, court officials, a witness and reporters all went to the road where Carl Pistorius is accused of driving recklessly and causing the death of a woman motorcyclist in a road accident in 2008. With both sides of the road blocked off by police vehicles with flashing blue lights, the court officials and police officers used a tape measure to record distances as the midday sun beat down, forcing Carl to remove his shiny blue suit jacket and put on a floppy brown sun hat.
The older Pistorius brother also helped, shouting out measurements at one point and showing where he brought his vehicle to a stop on grass near the side of the road after the collision five years ago.
Maria Barnard, who was also known as Marietjie Barnard, died in a hospital six days after the accident in March 2008, when she was thrown from her motorcycle after it collided with the back of Carl's Ford Ranger SUV. Carl Pistorius, 28, pleaded not guilty to culpable homicide and not guilty to two other charges relating to driving recklessly and without consideration on the first day of his trial last month.
Prosecutors say Carl was driving recklessly and caused the crash, which he denies. His defense says Barnard was driving too fast and may have consumed alcohol before the accident.
Thursday's proceedings focused on the testimony of a policeman who was called to the scene of the accident in Vanderbijlpark, a city south of Johannesburg. Mirroring the murder case against his younger brother, Carl's defense tried to undermine the testimony of the policeman, constable Robert Raphadu, and challenged his recollection of details relating to the accident scene.
Carl's senior defense lawyer, Kenneth Oldwadge, said Raphadu was being "deliberately deceptive."
In Oscar's bail hearing in Pretoria in February, the police's lead investigator was grilled by the defense on cross-examination and was later removed from the case because of his shaky testimony.
The Pistorius brothers, who have been close since childhood, have both now appeared in court in the space of months, each charged with killing a woman. Although the media frenzy surrounding Oscar has not transferred to Carl's case, it is still raising interest in South Africa as parallels are made and the country prepares for a sensational murder trial involving his younger brother.
Oscar Pistorius, the 26-year-old multiple Paralympic champion, was charged with premeditated murder for the shooting death of Reeva Steenkamp on Feb. 14, which he says was accidental because he mistook her for a nighttime intruder when he shot through a door in his bathroom with his licensed handgun.
Carl was a visible supporter of Oscar during his court appearances in February, often reaching out to touch the shoulder of his brother when he broke down in tears. Oscar has not attended any of Carl's court appearances, but their father, Henke, and sister Aimee were in court on Thursday.
Around 10 reporters and a handful of television crews and photographers were also at Vanderbijlpark Magistrate's Court when Raphadu initially testified that he was "close, very close" to the injured Barnard when he attended the accident scene and could not smell alcohol on the victim. In his cross-examination, defense lawyer Oldwadge — who is also part of Oscar's defense team — said he did not agree with a sketch of the accident scene made by Raphadu, prompting the magistrate to take everyone to the outskirts of the city to inspect the scene.
There, Carl stood with arms out in front of him to show where he stopped his Ford Ranger after colliding with Barnard's bike.
"It was a controlled stop, your Worship," Pistorius said as Magistrate Du Plessis jotted down notes surrounded by Pistorius' lawyers, the prosecution, police, court officials and Raphadu. Not far from Carl was a white cross with Marietjie Barnard's name and the dates of her birth and death — a memorial to the victim. Reporters, who were allowed to witness the evidence checking but forbidden from recording it with TV cameras or to take photographs, sheltered in the shade of a line of trees near a fence.
Earlier, in his blue suit and open-necked white shirt, Carl Pistorius sat in the dock looking at his cellphone and a tablet device for much of the morning's proceedings, but did confer with his legal team at one point during Raphadu's testimony and also smiled and shook his head in apparent disagreement with the policeman's evidence.
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