19 March 2014

South Africa: Steenkamp Shot in Defensive Position

Pretoria — Reeva Steenkamp was in a defensive position when she was hit by the last shots Oscar Pistorius fired at her through a locked toilet door, a ballistics expert testified in the paralympic athlete's murder trial on Wednesday.

"She was in a defensive position," Captain Chris Mangena told the High Court in Pretoria, bending forward in the witness stand and crossing his arms in front of his chest and face in demonstration.

Mangena said the first shot Pistorius fired struck a standing Steenkamp in her hip -- according to the height of the wound and the bullet hole in the door -- while the second missed her and ricocheted.

"Between the first shot and the second shot there is a break," he added.

Explaining that the expanding "Black Talon" bullets Pistorius used were designed to cause maximum damage to human tissue, Mangena said the impact of the shot to her hip flung Steenkamp onto a magazine rack in the toilet cubicle.

"By then she was in a seated position with her back towards the wall," he added.

He said, according to his findings, that the blonde model would have had both hands over her head, with the left and right hand across each other.

"Now, how do we determine that?" Mangena asked, then explained that Steenkamp had an entrance and exit wound on her right arm and that this arm was raised because bits of flesh transferred to the black vest she was wearing.

Bullet fragments also damaged the vest -- further proof that the arm was in front of her chest.

She had a wound to her left hand where it was hit by the same bullet that struck her in the head, fracturing her skull.

"After this wound was inflicted, My Lady, she dropped immediately," said Mangena.

He told the court that the height of the four holes in the door and the trajectory of the bullets indicated that Pistorius was probably not wearing his prosthetic legs when he fired the shots that killed his girlfriend.

This is consistent with the plea statement of the sprinter nicknamed "Blade Runner" who denies intending to kill Steenkamp, contending that he believed there was an intruder in the toilet cubicle.

According to his version, he put on his prostheses after the shooting when he discovered that Steenkamp was not in bed, and then used a cricket bat to break open the door.

But last week another police forensics expert testified that the height and angle of the bat marks suggested Steenkamp was also on his stumps when he wielded the bat.

Pistorius's defence lawyer Barry Roux challenged that testimony and on Wednesday did the same with Mangena's, on several counts. He told the ballistics expert that, if his reconstruction of the shooting were accurate, Steenkamp would have sustained injuries on the inside of her hand from fragments of bullet and bone that exited her head wound.

"My Lady, I disagree with that," Mangena said, looking puzzled.

Roux asked why Mangena failed to perform tests on marks left on her body by wood splinters from the door to see how far from the door Steenkamp had been, and suggested sarcastically that perhaps he could do so now, a year later.

He also put it to the witness that contrary to his testimony Pistorius had shot in a so-called double tap rhythm, firing two shots in rapid succession, then paused and then fired two more in the same manner.

Again, Mangena disagreed.

State prosecutor Gerrie Nel suggested that the timing of the shots instead fitted with the testimony of one of Pistorius's neighbours who said she heard screams and then a shot, followed after a short pause by three more.

"Michelle Burger, the first witness, said she heard the following: 'a shot, a pause, a shot, shot, shot," said Nel.

Mangena answered: "My Lady, that is possible. You have one shot, a break and the other three shots, it is possible," said Mangena.

Throughout his testimony, Pistorius sat with his head clutched in his hands.

The State then called to the witness stand a mobile phone expert who testified that Pistorius had visited porn and used car websites not long before Steenkamp died.

Colonel Mark Sale said data on the iPad 3 and an iPad 2 found on the scene the histories had the same type of content. It showed that Pistorius searched the porn website at 6.30pm on February 13, 2013, and later looked at cars including an Aston Martin Rapide R.

After Sale's testimony, Nel was granted an adjournment until Monday to allow the State to make final witness consultations as it prepares to wrap up its case.

"We have reached this juncture in the trial, My Lady, where the State is wrapping up our evidence and we are contemplating wrapping up our case."

The State intended calling about five more witnesses, he said.

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