Oscar Pistorius retched and covered his eyes in court when pictures were shown of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp’s corpse as his lawyer tackled police testimony that contradicts his version of events the morning he shot her.
Double-amputee Pistorius, 27, has pleaded not guilty in the High Court in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital, to the charge of intentionally killing Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year. He says he thought she was an intruder when he shot her through a toilet cubicle door in his bathroom. Known as the Blade Runner because of his J-shaped prosthetic running blades, Pistorius, who also faces three gun charges, has been free on 1 million rand ($93,000) bail.
The defense team questioned testimony by police investigator, Johannes Vermeulen, that Pistorius wasn’t wearing his prosthetics when he bashed through the door with a cricket bat after realizing it was Steenkamp he shot. This contradicts the athlete’s bail application statement that says he returned to his room, put on his prosthetics and first tried to kick the door in before using the bat.
“I can tell you now it’s very easy for the accused to kick that high,” Barry Roux, Pistorius’s lawyer, said in court today, arguing marks on the door could have been from a prosthetic limb.
The prosecution recreated the toilet in the court, using the same broken door, and Vermeulen detailed how the marks made by the bat on the door were from a low angle. Pistorius and Roux examined the damage to the door during the lunch adjournment.
Pistorius wept when glimpses of the bloody bathroom were shown on a TV next to the accused bench in the wood-paneled court. Members of Steenkamp’s family gasped and covered their eyes, and her friend Desiree Myers left the room as the images flashed across the screen.
Roux also cross-examined Vermeulen about how the evidence was stored and what had happened to missing pieces of the toilet door.
Judge Thokozile Masipa will give a final judgment after the trial, which is being broadcast live on radio and TV, because South Africa doesn’t have a jury system. Prosecutor Gerrie Nel may call more than 100 witnesses to testify in the case. The trial may continue until April 4, after which the court will go into a short recess, Johannesburg-based SAPA news agency reported, citing Andrea Johnson, a member of Nel’s team.
A policeman who arrived at the home after the shooting, took the court through photographs of the house, detailing blood spatter from where Steenkamp’s body was lying on the lower level to the upper-floor main bedroom, and damage to the bedroom door.
“In the kitchen there stood the accused, a white male who was later to known to me as Oscar Pistorius,” Schoombie van Rensburg said. “He was emotional and I asked him what happened.”
Since the start of the trial on March 3, Roux has challenged testimony of neighbors about the timing of screams and gunshots, and sought to discredit a witness who argued Pistorius was reckless with guns. The athlete has also been charged with firing a gun from a car and in a restaurant.
According to Roux, Pistorius screamed after he realized he had shot Steenkamp through the toilet door, and that some of the gunshots they recalled were the noise of the accused breaking down the locked door with the cricket bat. The prosecution says Pistorius fatally shot Steenkamp at 3:17 a.m. after an argument, during which she screamed for help.
The charges have derailed the running career of the winner of six Paralympic gold medals and cost Pistorius sponsorship deals with Nike Inc. (NKE) and Luxottica Group SpA’s (LUX) Oakley. He was the first double amputee to compete at the Olympics Games in London in 2012.
To contact the reporter on this story: Christopher Spillane in Pretoria at firstname.lastname@example.org