Defence's experts take to the stand in Pistorius trial

Athlete Oscar Pistorius. (Gallo)

Athlete Oscar Pistorius. (Gallo)

Three witnesses were called by Oscar Pistorius’s defence team on Thursday to testify in his murder trial in the high court in Pretoria.

Pistorius says he thought his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp was an intruder when he shot her dead in his Pretoria home on February 14 last year. He has been charged with murdering her. 

Head of anaesthesiology at the University of Witwatersrand, Christina Lundgren, was brought in to give the court her opinion on gastric emptying. This related to the time Steenkamp had her last meal. 

Lundgren referred the court to literature suggesting it would be speculative to gauge the time of eating and emptying of a dead person’s stomach contents. The anaesthetist said it was not proven that a stomach emptied after four hours.
There was consensus on gastric emptying requiring a minimum of six hours after eating. However, the topic was “not an exact science”. 

In her career she remembered a woman who had not eaten for eight hours but still had food in her stomach during an operation. In March, pathologist Gert Saayman, who performed the postmortem on Steenkamp, said she could have eaten her last meal about two hours before her death. 

He took pains to qualify this statement by saying that estimating this time was not an exact science and that he was relying on his years of experience and studying. 

Suffering emotionally
Last month, Pistorius was unable to explain why there was still food in Steenkamp’s stomach when she was killed. At the time, prosecutor Gerrie Nel suggested Steenkamp “must have eaten within two hours of her death”. Pistorius insisted the couple ate around 7pm on February 13 and went to bed soon after. Steenkamp was shot dead around 3am the following morning. 

Social worker Yvette van Schalkwyk testified that the athlete was emotionally distraught and heartbroken after the shooting. “From the moment I saw him, I saw a heartbroken man who was suffering emotionally. I saw a man who was in mourning and was sorry for the loss,” she said. 

“He spoke to me about the plans they had with Reeva for the future and about her parents and the suffering of her family.” She said Pistorius told her he “accidentally” shot Steenkamp. 

She said she had been upset by media reports suggesting Pistorius was not sincere in his apologies and was faking tears and emotions. Cross-examined by Nel, Van Schalkwyk conceded she had never dealt with other accused people in a “family murder case”. 

Bullet fragment
Finally, the defence called Thomas “Wollie” Wolmarans, a ballistics expert with decades of experience. Wolmarans said he found a fragment of a bullet in Pistorius’s toilet bowl and handed it to police. 

The piece of evidence had been missed by several officers who had searched the crime scene earlier. He said the type of bullets Pistorius used “mushroomed” when they hit a target, causing a larger wound. 

He said an accurate determination of the sequence of the shots or Steenkamp’s body position when she was shot was not possible. Wolmarans continues his testimony on Friday. Pistorius is also charged with three contraventions of the Firearms Control Act – one of illegal possession of ammunition and two of discharging a firearm in public. He has denied guilt on all four charges. – Sapa

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