Today saw the first day of the State’s cross-examination of Defence witness, DNA expert Dr. Antonel Olckers. Advocate Galloway tested her with expert skill, calling her experience, her report and her knowledge into question throughout the day. So much so, that the legal counsel for the accused told the court that his client was ‘concerned’ about Judge Desai’s tone of voice, general impatience and demeanour toward the witness.
The day began with Adv. Galloway being quick to hone in on Dr. Olcker’s extensive 33-page CV. After asking a few well-placed questions regarding the witnesses’ credentials, it was clear that her experience lay primarily in the administrative and academic aspects of the forensic field and not so much in lab work.
Next Adv. Galloway wanted to learn more about the report which the DNA expert had prepared for her testimony. It was revealed to the court that it was more a summary than an independent report, compiled after the evidence was provided to the court by by Col. Sharlene Otto, the State’s DNA expert witness and Warrant Officer Nel.
“It would have helped if you had compiled a report before your mind was clouded by discussions with the defence and after hearing other witnesses’ testimonies”, remarked Judge Desai.
The cross-examination then moved once again to Dr. Olckers’ credentials in the field of DNA forensic testing. Adv. Galloway spoke briefly about operating procedures and protocols associated with this line of work. Then the subject of proficiency tests arose, a test you could imagine would add weight to any professional in the field.
The State went for the jugular here, with a simple question posed to the witness: “Have you ever completed any proficiency tests?” – to which the answer was “No, not in a forensic laboratory. “
Adv. Galloway didn’t let up. He next tackled the matter of accreditation, particularly relating to laboratory work. Previously, State DNA expert Col. Otto has testified that accreditation was ‘nice to have’, while Dr. Olckers felt that it was important, as having this status meant minimum standards were in place. It has to be noted that SAPS laboratories are not widely accredited, current legislature does not require it. It was then Judge Desai who posed the question to Dr. Olckers: “Does SAPS’ lack of accreditation mean that all police laboratory results were not scientifically valid?” The witness responded that if SOP’s were followed, it would be.
Adv. Galloway was quick to reference an SAPS Act, which says that DNA analysis has be performed in accordance with quality management systems, which Otto had testified she had done.
Dr. Olckers was unaware of this. “You’re an expert in your field!” declared Desai in conclusion of this point.
It was after lunch when the day took an even more interesting turn. During cross-examination, Adv. Botha suddenly asked for a very brief adjournment – lasting less than three minutes. Upon resuming the trial, he stood up and stated that his client (Henri) is ‘concerned’ about Judge Desai’s tone of voice, general impatience and demeanour toward the witness currently in the stand. Flabbergasted at first, Desai then asked why this is only being mentioned now, surely it would have been something of importance at the beginning of the trial? The Defence merely wanted it to be placed on record, in which case it ultimately was by Desai, who seemed bewildered by the objection.
Before adjournment, the cross-examination changed gears and drove into biology, with Adv. Galloway confirming with the witness the definition of nuclei, cells and chromosomes – on a path which is likely to take us further into scientific evidence tomorrow.
Follow us on Twitter from 09:30am tomorrow for the continuation of the cross-examination of Dr. Olckers.
Photography K-leigh Siebritz / HM Images