Police Tactics Under Fire in Oscar Pistorius Murder Trial

Officers stole items from the athlete's home and handled gun without gloves.

PRETORIA, South Africa, March 17, 2014— -- The South African Police Service's handling of crucial evidence in the Oscar Pistorius murder investigation is expected to come under fire again this week as the Olympian's trial enters its third week.

Pistorius is accused of murdering his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in cold blood during a pre-dawn argument in his home in Eastern Pretoria. He does not dispute pulling the trigger but says it was a tragic case of mistaken identity - that he thought there was an intruder in the bathroom and his life, as well as Steenkamp's, was in danger.

Police officials were forced last week to make embarrassing admissions, including the theft of wristwatches from the athlete's home during the first few hours after the shooting. The High Court in Pretoria also heard that a ballistics investigator handled Pistorius' gun without gloves; that some crime scene photos were only taken after officers moved items around; and that the door through which Pistorius shot Steenkamp was kept in a body bag in a police station commander's office and not in an evidence safe.

Pistorius' defense attorney Advocate Barry Roux suggested that the crime scene photos indicate that police had tampered with the scene. He is also expected to recall forensic expert Gerhardus Vermeulen to the stand after the defense found another mark on the door that the forensic investigator did not explain.

Vermeulen last week refused to acknowledge that a mark on the door could have been caused by Pistorius' prosthetic leg, saying his orders were only to investigate marks caused by the cricket bat Pistorius used to break down the door. When asked why he did not probe the possibility that the mark was made by a prosthesis, he said he only heard about the defense's version that Pistorius first tried to kick down the door, before grabbing the bat, much later.

The reassembled door will likely remain in the courtroom for the rest of the week as several more forensic, ballistics and blood splatter experts will be called to testify about their findings. The door is part of an exhibit erected inside the court – a replica of the cubicle Steenkamp died in after being hit in the head, arm and hip by bullets known as "Black Talons," which are designed to cause maximum damage.

Pistorius had a tough week in court last week and started vomiting when the pathologist outlined Steenkamp's wounds. Scenes of an emotional, writhing and vomiting Pistorius were repeated on Friday when photos of Steenkamp's body and face were inadvertently shown on the screens inside the court.