Pathologist shares autopsy report at Pistorius trial

Oscar Pistorius cried and retched in court. (AFP)

Oscar Pistorius cried and retched in court. (AFP)

"Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius cried and retched in court on Monday as he listened to findings from the autopsy on Reeva Steenkamp, whom he shot and killed on Valentine's Day last year.

As the athlete's murder trial entered its second week, pathologist Gert Saayman told the high court in Pretoria that Steenkamp was shot with expanding bullets designed to cause maximum tissue damage.

He described bullet wounds in the model's head and hip, as well as bruises to her back, buttocks and breast and suggested some of the injuries were caused by wood splinters from the bathroom door through which the shots were fired.

Saayman's detailed testimony was twice interrupted by the sound of Pistorius weeping and gagging. At one point, as Saayman described how a bullet had shattered bone, he covered his ears and curled up on the court bench.

But defence lawyer Barry Roux SC declined Judge Thokozile Masipa's offer of an adjournment, saying it was unlikely to help his client regain his composure. "He is very emotional.
It is not going to change ... He says he is willing that the evidence must proceed."

Saayman told the court a bullet had entered Steenkamp's head in the right upper part, and had run under the skull before it exited from a second wound in the head. Part of the projectile had lodged in her brain.

Little fluid
According to the pathologist, bullet holes in a black seamless vest and pair of running shorts matched the position of Steenkamp's wounds. She had eaten some two hours before the shooting and there was little fluid in her bladder. 

The pathologist was the first witness in the trial whose testimony was not broadcast live on television after he objected, saying it would rob Steenkamp of her dignity. "I believe it is our duty to preserve the dignity of the deceased," he said. It would also be unfair to make such explicit information indiscriminately available to vulnerable viewers, he added.

"I think it goes against the good morals of society to make information of the nature available to vulnerable and unsuspecting people such as children if they are not timeously informed."

Masipa rejected an application from broadcast media that inoffensive parts of Saayman's testimony be televised later, and also banned journalists from sending out updates on Twitter and blogsites while he spoke.

"There shall be no live broadcast now ... That [also] applies to Twitter."

Later she added: "When I referred to Twitter I failed to refer to blogging as well. So Twitter is not allowed, blogging is not allowed."

However, print media were allowed to remain in court and report on the results of the autopsy, which were overseen by a second, private pathologist.

Constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos criticised the court's ban on live coverage as confusing and impracticable. "It sounds unenforceable ... in other court cases, people and journalists use Twitter so I don't know why they are doing this in this case. What makes this case so special?" 

Pistorius admits shooting Steenkamp but claims he had mistaken her for an intruder hiding in a locked toilet in his plush Pretoria home.

Last week, he also broke down when the court heard an account of Steenkamp's injuries from a neighbour, radiologist Johan Stipp, who went to the athlete's house to offer help and found him crying next to his dying girlfriend.

Pistorius's defence has sought to use the severity of the injuries to discredit the testimony of state witnesses. Roux has put it to neighbours who claim they heard a woman's cries for help followed by gunshots that this was not feasible as Steenkamp had sustained too much brain damage to make a sound.

He has probed relentlessly for inconsistency in all testimony, and so was the case again on Monday morning with security guard Pieter Baba, who was on duty at Pistorius's townhouse complex on the night of the shooting.

Baba has told the court he called Pistorius, who sounded upset but told him everything was fine. Pistorius then called back a short while later and sobbed wordlessly, Baba said.

First call
Cross-examining Baba, Roux produced cellphone records which he said showed that Pistorius had made the first call. 

"Pistorius called you first at 3.21am, and he will tell the court that he could not speak and very shortly after that at 3.22am you called him back to find out if he is all right."

The witness responded: "My Lady, this is not true that he called me first, I called him first. I am the one who made that first call to him."

As with other witnesses, Roux suggested that Baba had over time amended his recollection to incriminate Pistorius. He had contradicted himself on the details he noticed when he arrived at Pistorius's home and saw him carry Steenkamp down the stairs, the lawyer charged.

Again, Baba firmly disagreed. He pointed Roux to his exact testimony on Friday, and suggested any misunderstanding was the lawyer's.

The trial continues. – Sapa

Client Media Releases

UKZN School of Engineering celebrates accreditation from ECSA
MTN celebrates 25 years of enhancing lives through superior network connectivity
Financial services businesses focus on CX