State Rests in Pistorius Case as Texts Reveal Strained RelationsChris Spillane and Paul Burkhardt
The prosecution in Oscar Pistorius’s murder trial rested its case after a police investigator revealed text messages showing a warm, yet troubled relationship with model Reeva Steenkamp before the paralympian gold medalist killed her.
The trial at the High Court in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital, adjourned today and will resume on March 28. Double-amputee Pistorius, 27, has pleaded not guilty to murdering Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year, and three gun-related charges. He says he thought Steenkamp was an intruder when he shot her through a locked toilet cubicle door in his bathroom.
Francois Moller, an analyst at the Directorate of Priority Crime Investigation, known as the Hawks, read out WhatsApp messages from the mobile phones of Pistorius and Steenkamp today and yesterday indicating both an affectionate relationship between the two and Steenkamp’s fears of the athlete.
“I’m scared of you sometimes and how you snap at me and of how you will react to me,” Steenkamp said in a Jan. 27, 2013, message after an argument. “You have picked on me incessantly since you came back from” Cape Town.
Defense lawyer Barry Roux, in cross-examination today, pointed to other chat messages showing that Pistorius and Steenkamp had settled their arguments.
“There was a disagreement and unhappiness but if you look at the e-mails it was resolved very quickly,” Roux told the court. He also showed a CCTV video of the couple kissing while shopping.
The trial, which is being broadcast live on radio and TV, started on March 3. Judge Thokozile Masipa will give a final judgment because South Africa doesn’t have a jury system. Known as the Blade Runner because of his J-shaped prosthetic running blades, Pistorius has been free on 1 million rand ($93,000) bail since February last year.
The prosecution team has sought to portray Pistorius as obsessed and reckless with weapons and having a quick temper. Witnesses testified how he shot through the sunroof of a car and in a Johannesburg restaurant.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel called neighbors of Pistorius in the Silver Woods Country Estate gated community where he lived in Pretoria who testified that they heard a woman’s screams and gunshots shortly after 3 a.m. local time.
In testimony yesterday, Anette Stipp, an occupational therapist who can see Pistorius’s house from her bed, told the court that she heard “terrifying screams” by a woman moments before the athlete shot Steenkamp. “I couldn’t make out what she was screaming, it was just screams, very terrified screaming.”
Stipp said she awoke at about 3:02 a.m. coughing and then heard what sounded like three shots in rapid succession, following by screaming by a woman and shouts from a man. Minutes later she heard three more shots. She said she may not have heard all the bullets.
The first and second sets of shots sounded the same, she said.
“I could still hear the scream up until the second set of shots,” Stipp said. “I could also hear a man screaming.”
The prosecution and defense agree that Pistorius fired only four bullets. The defense says the athlete bashed through the toilet door with a cricket bat after realizing it was Steenkamp in the cubicle.
Steenkamp was standing when the first hollow-point bullet broke her hip bone, then she fell on top of a magazine rack in the toilet, police ballistics expert Chris Mangena said in testimony on March 19. She was struck by two more bullets from Pistorius’s pistol, in the arm and the head, he said.
“She was standing in front of the door, facing the door,” Mangena said. Pistorius would have been at least two feet away when he fired, he said.
Mangena said that since the first bullet caused Steenkamp to fall from a standing position, it was probable that there was a delay after the initial shot before the final three were fired. The position of her arms showed Steenkamp may have been trying to shield herself after the first shot was fired, he said.
The athlete ordered six firearms, including a Smith & Wesson 500 revolver and a semi-automatic rifle, Sean Rens, a firearms trainer, told the trial on March 17. The order was canceled about a month after he shot Steenkamp, Rens said.
The charges have derailed the running career of the winner of six Paralympic gold medals and cost Pistorius sponsorship deals with Nike Inc. and Luxottica Group SpA’s Oakley.
Ossur hf, the Icelandic company that manufactures the blades used by Pistorius, said it may resume ties with the athlete if he’s acquitted of murder charges after announcing it had ended relations, Sveinn Solvason, Ossur’s chief financial officer, said by phone March 17.
Pistorius was the first double amputee to compete at the Olympics Games in London in 2012.
His law firm said March 20 that Pistorius is selling the home where he shot Steenkamp.
“Due to the delay in finalizing the trial, the decision to urgently dispose of his single biggest asset has had to be made,” Brian Webber, Ramsay Webber Inc. said in a statement on the athlete’s website. “Mr. Pistorius cannot contemplate ever returning to live there again.”
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