A star pathologist hired by Oscar Pistorius said yesterday he would not testify at the athlete's murder trial, another blow for his defence after a week of savage cross examination.
Private forensic pathologist Reggie Perumal - who joined Pistorius' hand-picked team soon after Reeva Steenkamp was killed on Valentine's Day last year - will not take the stand, amid suggestions his post-mortem findings support key parts of the prosecution's case.
Perumal has appeared in many high-profile cases in South Africa, where a private pathologist can cost upwards of US$2,000 a day. He was hired by Pistorius in time to attend the model's autopsy.
When asked if he would testify, the Durban-based pathologist said: "No, ma'am. I think you're aware that I can't say anything right now."
Perumal's absence from the witness box casts further doubt on the believability of Pistorius' story, after a week which saw the Paralympic star and one of his hired experts torn to shreds by prosecutor Gerrie Nel.
Yesterday, Nel hammered defence expert Roger Dixon, a forensic geologist who testified on key elements of the Pistorius crime scene, including the order of the bullets that hit Steenkamp.
Nel, a legal veteran known as the "Pit Bull", derided the quality of the expert's testimony, accusing him of "misleading" the court. "I am not trying to mislead the court," said Dixon.
Perumal's unusual decision not to testify has attracted the attention of his fellow forensic pathologists.
"I have heard that it might be because he refused to amend his version," said Steve Naidoo, a Durban-based private forensic pathologist.
"If so, and if Dr Perumal is not willing to twist the truth, then it's to his tremendous credit."
Pistorius has pleaded not guilty to intentionally killing Steenkamp, a 29-year-old law graduate and aspiring reality television star, saying he mistook her for an intruder in his upmarket Pretoria villa.
The state alleges Pistorius and Steenkamp were arguing and that the 27-year-old Olympian and Paralympic gold medallist shot his girlfriend in a fit of rage.
State pathologist Gert Saayman said vegetable matter in Steenkamp's stomach suggested she ate about two hours before her death at 3.17am, a finding that conflicts with Pistorius' version of events that the couple were asleep at that time.
"To the best of my recollection he was in agreement," said Saayman about Perumal.
Instead of Perumal, the defence called Jan Botha, a former state pathologist who has carried out about 25,000 autopsies.
Botha disputed Saayman's conclusion, saying that determining the time of death through gastric emptying is guesswork, calling it a "highly controversial and inexact science".