Updated 24 April 2014

Oscar trial: Geology rocks?

CyberShrink comments on the annihilation of the geologist in the Oscar Pistorius trial.


On Tuesday 15 April, geologist Roger Dixon began testifying as an expert witness for the defence in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial. Prosecutor Gerrie Nel challenged him on the thoroughness and validity of his investigation process.

Read: What we know about Reeva's injuries

It seems hard to believe that this pleasant geologist has provided evidence in as many cases as he claims. For one, Mr Dixon's dancing hands suggest he hasn't actually had much experience in this regard – as gestures to explain shapes and directions are no more than blank spaces in official court transcripts.

A Nel of a Day

Mr Dixon delivered a less than sterling performance and was treated more kindly by Mr Nel than he deserved. Some judges would have raised blisters on anyone who dared to arrive in court so comprehensively unprepared. There was no written report, and I frankly don’t understand how someone claiming to be an expert can happily admit to be speaking as a layman!

It’s an insult to the court to read from scraps of paper and not provide proper references, or outline a scientific and expert basis for his views.

His only major qualifications are in geology, yet he cheerfully gave his opinions in a wide range of areas in which he was very obviously not even remotely an expert.

He seemed – as a layman of course – to have no problem disagreeing with the opinions of genuine experts, specialists, pathologists and professors. He claimed to have "reconstructed" situations without bothering to actually investigate highly relevant features.

Read: What do Reeva's messages to Oscar mean

He "studied" the level of darkness in the bedroom, using no instruments but his own eyes, though perception of light and darkness can vary widely among people and is influenced by many factors. He failed to notice that the balcony lights had been on at the time, so didn't switch them on during his “investigation”.   

He announced that fibres found on the door matched those of Oscar's socks – without ever having touched the socks. He was even prepared to offer his services as an “amateur psychologist”, claiming, that "muscle memory" meant that Oscar could have automatically corrected for the kickback of the pistol.

If he can confuse psychology and physiology – maybe I'm qualified to give my opinions as a geologist. The mind boggles. 

Fine-tuning the defence strategy

Usually the defence starts with their best and strongest witnesses. Please tell me Dixon wasn't the best they have! Oscar caused many problems for himself by stubbornly devising and following his own strategies when he testified. This made it vital that he be followed by only the best and most professional witnesses to back up his case. Dixon only compounded the damage. 

He reported on tests he actually did not do, not knowing relevant details, and emphasizing his impressions, without scientific measurements. There's a great difference between sounds produced inside an echoing bathroom, but heard across open ground, and sounds both produced and heard either in the open-air or within a large room. His "tests" did NOT reproduce the relevant variables in the original situations.

And what of the "bruise" or shadow he pointed out in one photograph, which later disappeared? And all delivered with the cautious "To the best of my memory..." or " As I recall..." He was called a "trace evidence expert" – understandably so, as indeed he gave only traces of real evidence.

Read: What we know about Reeva's injuries

After more than a year in which to prepare, what on earth were Dixon and his team doing performing further tests at this late stage – some even after the trial had started? This gives the uneasy impression that, faced with the State’s case, they belatedly struggled to produce more evidence, or that their earlier evidence seemed inadequate.

Some have even suggested that they may have been forced to make do with Dixon because other real experts and specialists had refused to testify for the defence. Perhaps it was because the defence insisted on certain very specific opinions…

Remaining issues

Isn't it, somehow nice to discover from Nel that the cleaners at the law courts are so energetic and hard-working that they clean and polish even the exhibits?

Maybe one or two of the witnesses needed going over with the mutton-cloth, too? "I didn't observe the cleaners putting an excessive amount of energy into cleaning the door" Dixon insisted, but he looked sheepish enough.

As the media continue to make a fuss about the “Pistorians”, I have some concerns. Why are we not seeing more supporters of Reeva and other victims?

Have these eager reporters really checked their backgrounds and made sure the Pistorians are entirely what they seem? And why are they appearing only now after Oscar's self-damaging evidence in court?

Over at Channel 199 they're still insisting on "unpacking" things. How I wish they'd pack that in.

And finally: Who can possibly believe that Oscar was running around with a loaded gun with the safety catch off, with absolutely no intention of shooting anyone, even by accident?

Or that he believed that not one, but maybe even two incontinent burglars had climbed in through the window then rushed to barricade (and presumably relieve) themselves in the toilet?

Read more:

Do you hope Oscar is innocent, or do you need him to be innocent?
Has Oscar lost the plot?
The absurdities of the Oscar Pistorius trial

Professor MA Simpson is Health24's CyberShrink. A South African psychiatrist, he qualified in medicine and in psychiatry in Britain. He has been a senior academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries. Read more of his columns.




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