Friday, April 18, 2014

Oscar Pistorius trial: what we have learnt from the last seven days

Oscar Pistorius attends his trial at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on April 16 Photo: AFP
Oscar Pistorius denies the premeditated murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp by shooting her through a locked lavatory door early on February 14 last year. He has said he believed she was an intruder and acted to protect himself and Steenkamp. The prosecution say he killed her deliberately after a row. The following is a summary of the last seven days of evidence:

April 9th
– Cross examination of Oscar Pistorius begins. Gerrie Nel, the state prosecutor, challenges him to "take responsibility" for killing Reeva Steenkamp, as a "sports hero" that people previously looked up to.
– Gerrie Nel asks Pistorius if he has ever heard or said the term "zombie stopper" and the athlete says no. Mr Nel plays a video clip in court of Pistorius and friends at a firing range, shooting at a watermelon until it explodes. As his friends laugh, Pistorius says: "It's not as soft as brains but ---- it's a zombie stopper."
 – Mr Nel shows Pistorius a picture of Steenkamp's head injury, telling him: "her brain exploded" like the watermelon. Pistorius refuses to look at the picture, telling Mr Nel: "I touched her head that night, I don't need the torment of looking at the picture."    

– Pistorius says his previous bail statement that he went onto the balcony to bring in two fans was "incorrect", he says he never left the room.

 – Pistorius says he did not mean to shoot, let alone to kill, Steenkamp or an intruder. "I shot because at that split moment I thought somebody was coming out to attack me. I did not have time to think," he said.

April 10th
– Mr Nel suggests Pistorius is an egotistical, selfish man, who will blame "anyone but himself" – including Steenkamp and his lawyers – for his mistakes. "It's all about you, Oscar Pistorius," he taunts.

– Mr Nel criticises Pistorius's courtroom apology to Steenkamp's family, saying he would have done it away from the public eye if it was genuine.

– Pistorius denies his finger being on the trigger of a friend's gun when it went off in Tasha's restaurant in Johannesburg, prompting Nel to remark it's a "miracle gun". The incident relates to another gun charge Pistorius faces.

– Pistorius says he did not think it was illegal to keep his father's .38 ammunition in a safe in his house. Told it was illegal, he suggests his legal team were wrong in telling him to plead not guilty to a charge of illegally possessing ammunition.

– Pistorius denies Steenkamp's claim in a Whatssap message that he "picked on her incessantly".

– Pistorius says Samantha Taylor, his former girlfriend, was lying in her evidence that he screamed at her.

– Pistorius says both Miss Taylor and Darren Fresco, his former friend, lied when they claimed he fired a gun out of a car sunroof. The incident relates to another gun charge he faces.

– Pistorius says, in reference to a Whatssap message from Steenkamp, about falling in love with him: "I never got the opportunity to tell her I loved her."

- Pistorius says that when he woke early on February 14, he did not see Steenkamp leave the room to go to the toilet.

– Pistorius denies the prosecution claim he was arguing with Steenkamp and she fled to the bathroom. Gerrie Nel tells the athlete repeatedly that his account was "improbable".

- Pistorius suggests police moved the fan, duvet and position of the curtains after the crime.

April 11th
– Gerrie Nel tells Pistorius the only "reasonable explanation" for his girlfriend's injuries was that she was "standing in front of the toilet door, talking to you, when you shot her". Pistorius denies the claim.

– Mr Nel also challenges Pistorius on why he had not asked his girlfriend if she heard the window opening, the noise the accused said prompted him to head for the bathroom with his gun.

– He says a "reasonable" person would not run towards the threat if he felt vulnerable, rather than getting his girlfriend and the pair of them hiding together.

– Nel tells Pistorius he took the safety catch off his gun and "wanted to shoot". He replies: "There's a massive difference between being ready for a confrontation and wanting to shoot someone."

- Mr Nel says it's "improbable" that Steenkamp did not respond as Pistorius shouted to her to call the police. He replies that she would have been frightened and "stayed quiet".

- Judge Masipa tells the athlete he's making "mistakes" and asks if it's because he's tired, saying it is important he is "all there" in the witness box to ensure his rights are protected.

– Pistorius says he never heard Steenkamp scream before or during the gunshots.

Oscas Pistorius leaves the North Gauteng High Court (AFP)
April 14th
– Oscar Pistorius starts crying as he tells how he screamed "get the ---- out of my house" at intruders he believed had climbed through the window. Gerrie Nel suggests he screamed the same words at Steenkamp, not an intruder, during a row.

– Pistorius says he fired the gun "accidentally" at the lavatory door, prompting Mr Nel to suggest he was relying on two different defences: "putative self-defence", that he fired at a perceived intruder intentionally, and "involuntary action", that he shot without intention as a reflex.

– The prosecutor asks why Steenkamp's jeans are on the floor when all her other clothes are folded in her bag, suggesting she was putting them on and trying to leave during a row.

– Nel says it's "devastating" for Pistorius's account that a state pathologist said the contents of Steenkamp's stomach suggested she ate just two or three hours before her death at 3am. Pistorius said the couple ate at 7pm.

– Nel says it's also "devastating" that Pistorius did not mention either in his bail hearing statement, or in his plea explanation that he heard the lavatory door slam as he walked into the bathroom, gun cocked.

– Nel points to discrepancy in Pistorius's evidence that he "wasn't thinking" when he fired at the door, and other statements that he did not fire into the shower because the bullet might ricochet, that he did not have his arms outstretched in case the suspected intruder grabbed his gun, and that he did not shout that he was armed because he did not want to escalate the situation. Mr Nel says all three statements suggest the athlete was "thinking".

- Gerrie Nel suggests to Pistorius, who cried repeatedly in the witness box, he was "using your emotional state as an escape".

April 15th
– Pistorius says he stopped screaming when he found Steenkamp. "I was broken, overcome with sadness," he said. "I was talking to her all the time, screaming 'baby, please hold on, Jesus please help me'."

- Pistorius reads from a Valentine's card Steenkamp wrote for him before she died. It read: "Roses are red. Violets are blue. I think today is a good day to tell you that I love you".

- Pistorius conducts demonstration to swing cricket bat against door to prove he was on his prosthetic legs by this stage, rather than on his stumps as the prosecution claimed.

– Pistorius declines to take the blame for what happened, saying he acted thinking his life was in danger. Mr Nel taunts him: "Should we blame Reeva? Should we blame the government?"

- Mr Nel says that despite the athlete's account of intending to shoot a burglar in self-defence, "on the objective facts and circumstantial evidence", the judge would find him guilty of premeditated murder.
- "You fired four shots through the door whilst knowing that she was standing behind the door," Mr Nel says. "She was locked into the bathroom and you armed yourself with the sole purpose of shooting and killing her." "That is not true," the athlete replies.

– Roger Dixon, a defence forensic expert, tells the court with the curtains drawn, Pistorius's room would have been "very dark". "I could not see anything at all, even my hand in front of my face."

- Mr Dixon says a light could only be seen in Pistorius's lavatory cubicle, as suggested by a neighbour who heard bangs and screams, if the door to the bathroom was open.
– Mr Dixon says the marks on the lavatory door match it being hit "very hard" with a cricket bat.

– The forensic expert says other marks are consistent with Pistorius's claim to have kicked the door in his prostheses, leaving sock fibres behind. He dismisses the police suggestion that the marks could have been caused by Pistorius "stumbling over" the door panel as it lay on the floor.

– Mr Dixon, a former police officer, labels police at the crime scene as "unprofessional" for walking over the door.

– Mr Dixon says bruises to Steenkamp's back and buttocks were caused by her falling on the magazine rack not, as the prosecution suggested, by bullet ricochets.

April 16th
– The court is played sound recordings of cricket bats and gunshots hitting the lavatory door.

– Mr Dixon admits he was not present for the test of the second shot of gunshots; and the gun jammed in the first test, so a music producer had to splice the individual shots together to give the impression they were in quick successions.

– Mr Dixon agrees with the state pathologist that the first shot hit the victim in the hip, and the fourth in the head. But unlike the prosecution, who said the second bullet missed and ricocheted and the third hit her in the arm, he said the second hit her in the arm shortly after the first, and the third nicked her hand before ricocheting.

– Mr Dixon also contradicts the state ballistics expert that Steenkamp would have been standing facing the door when she was hit, saying instead that she would have been rising from a sitting position with her hand reaching towards the handle.

– The defence expert says Steenkamp was hit by "four shots in rapid succession" as she was "falling and turning". The inference is that she would have had little time to scream as neighbours claim they heard her a woman do.

– Gerrie Nel highlights the expert's lack of qualifications to make findings on sound tests, blood spatters, or ballistics.

– He establishes that Mr Dixon did not attend Steenkamp's post-mortem and had only witnessed three autopsies in his life compared to the 10,000-15,000 conducted by Professor Gert Saayman, the state pathologist.

– Mr Dixon admits he went on the Internet to check what gunshots sounded like before giving evidence.

– He agrees he was never given the cricket bat Pistorius used to break down the door to conduct independent tests, nor the socks he wore when he kicked at the door.

– Mr Dixon says he is a "layman" on matters of pathology, prompting Mr Nel to tell him he is "irresponsible" to agree to give evidence in court.

April 17th
– Defence expert Roger Dixon posts on Facebook, saying on his third day in the witness box: "Let's see how much of my credibility, integrity and professional reputation is destroyed." He complains about those who "will not listen because they do not want to hear".

- Mr Dixon disagrees with Pistorius on the position of the magazine rack in the lavatory because of bruising to her back and blood marks on the floor.

– He also appeared to contradict the athlete's account of his struggle to move Steenkamp out of the lavatory cubicle into the bathroom, saying she was carried rather than pulled out.
– Mr Dixon admits that a model whom the defence team had walk past the bathroom window on his knees to test a neighbour's claim to have seen the athlete walk past on the night Steenkamp died was 20cm shorter than the defendant.

Aislinn Laing | Telegraph

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