PRETORIA, South Africa: Oscar Pistorius vomited in the dock and retched repeatedly and loudly at his murder trial Monday as he heard graphic details of the injuries sustained by the girlfriend he shot, including a head wound that was probably instantly fatal according to the pathologist who performed her autopsy.
Reeva Steenkamp was shot with bullets designed to expand on impact and cause maximum damage, Prof. Gert Saayman testified after he identified the type of bullet from fragments in Steenkamp’s skull.
Saayman’s testimony was not broadcast or reported live on Twitter by journalists because of its explicit content under an order from Judge Thokozile Masipa. However, journalists were allowed to report the testimony without directly quoting the witness’s words.
The double-amputee runner, hunched over on a bench, vomited when he heard the description of Steenkamp’s wounds, prompting Masipa to briefly halt the testimony to ask chief defense lawyer Barry Roux to attend to his client. The judge also asked whether Pistorius was able to understand the proceedings. Roux said Pistorius’ reaction was not going to change. A bucket was placed at his feet.
After court adjourned for the day, Pistorius sat for a few minutes with his hands over his ears and his body heaving and bent forward as his brother held a hand on his back.
Saayman stood for much of his testimony, referring to photographs that were not shown to the gallery as he described bullet wounds on Steenkamp’s body, one to the right side of the head, one to the right arm and one to the right hip area. He also described exit wounds caused by the bullets and other abrasions and discoloration of the skin, consistent with the impact of a bullet fired through a wooden object such as a door.
Saayman said that each of the three main gunshot wounds Steenkamp suffered could have been fatal in isolation. Steenkamp’s right arm was also broken and she had multiple skull fractures, both because of the effect of bullets, Saayman said.
There was another wound on one of Steenkamp’s hands, Saayman said. Steenkamp, a model and personality on a television reality show, was wearing a pair of sports shorts with a Nike logo, a former sponsor of Pistorius, and a black undershirt when she was shot, he said.
Saayman also gave his expert opinion on how long before she died Steenkamp last ate by the food contents in her stomach. He estimated that it wouldn’t have been more than two hours before she died. That appeared to contradict Pistorius’ version that suggests the couple had eaten and were in bed by 10 p.m. Steenkamp was shot after 3 a.m.
Pistorius, the first amputee to run in the Olympics, is charged with premeditated murder for 29-year-old Steenkamp’s shooting death before dawn on Feb. 14, 2013. Pistorius, 27, says the killing was accidental because he thought his girlfriend was a dangerous intruder when he shot her through the door of a toilet cubicle in his home.
Earlier, prosecutor Gerrie Nel, supported by chief defense lawyer Barry Roux, said Saayman’s testimony would have an “explicitly graphic nature” and should not be shown around the world. Masipa then announced a ban on live audio and video broadcasting, and extended the order to live reporting on social media.
“Twitter is not allowed. Blogging is not allowed,” Masipa said.
Proceedings can be partly televised and the audio can be broadcast in its entirety under a judge’s pre-trial order that sought to balance the right to a fair trial with the intense public interest in the Pistorius case and the principle of open justice. Under the order, witnesses can choose not to be shown on television.
Earlier Monday, Masipa extended that order, saying “private witnesses are more vulnerable than public figures” and that still photographs of witnesses who requested privacy cannot be published or disseminated for the duration of the trial, even if they were obtained from sources outside the courtroom.
Earlier Monday, a security guard who said he spoke with Pistorius soon after the shooting of Steenkamp was challenged by the defense about his recollection of the sequences of the events that night.
The sequence is important for the defense because, if it can prove that Pistorius called security first, it could support the contention that he was seeking help as quickly as possible.
The guard, Pieter Baba, had testified Friday that he called Pistorius and was told “everything is fine” on the telephone. Baba said Pistorius then called him back moments later, didn’t speak, was crying and the second call then ended.
Baba said he was responding to neighbors’ reports of gunshots coming from Pistorius’ home after 3 a.m. on Valentine’s Day last year. He drove with a fellow guard to Pistorius’ villa and made the call from outside the house.
Baba’s statement that he called Pistorius first could back the prosecution’s case that the killing was premeditated, and that Pistorius was trying, at least initially, to conceal what he had done.
On Monday, however, Roux said call records showed Pistorius called security first, but couldn’t speak because he was “indeed crying.”