Oscar Pistorius trial: Gasps of shock and visceral howls

Oscar Pistorius arriving at the court in Pretoria, 8 April 2014

There was much drama and emotion on display in court on Tuesday as South African athlete Oscar Pistorius took to the stand for a second day.

Shortly before the double amputee described how he had shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day last year, his lawyer asked him to demonstrate his height without his prosthetic legs.

Gasps were heard in the overflow courtroom as he slowly walked on his stumps over to the toilet door. This is the same door that he fired four shots through, three of which hit and killed Ms Steenkamp.

Start Quote

His confident demeanour changed - on his stumps he seemed self-conscious”

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The brown bullet-holed door stands obtrusively in the courtroom. It has a heavy presence - both sides are hoping to use it to bolster their case.

Back to Mr Pistorius. Now dressed in black shorts and a white T-shirt, he stood awkwardly in front of the very door that had stood between him and his supposed intruder.

His confident demeanour changed - on his stumps he seemed self-conscious. Very few people have seen him like this and it is not an image visible to the world as his testimony is not being televised.

'Angel'

Mr Pistorius told the court he and Ms Steenkamp had said a few words to each other shortly after he woke up to bring in some fans from the balcony.

Oscar Pistorius recounts the shooting

In his initial version, read out at the bail application after his arrest in February, there was no mention of a conversation with Ms Steenkamp. In fact, she was said to have been asleep since 10pm.

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In one message, his girlfriend of two months at the time, said: "I am scared of you sometimes"”

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The discrepancy is yet to be questioned - one for prosecutor Gerrie Nel, I would imagine. Mr Nel is a stickler for details, and he is likely to question Mr Pistorius about this.

Mr Pistorius had used the morning in court to paint a picture of a loving relationship with Ms Steenkamp as he pored through messages where the two called each other "babe", "boo" and "angel".

'Quiet night in'

This took up the bulk of the morning's testimony and his lawyer Barry Roux tried to undo the damage caused by messages which presented the athlete as short tempered and possessive.

In one message, his girlfriend of two months at the time said: "I am scared of you sometimes".

Relatives of Oscar Pistorius weep in court on 8 April 2014 The athlete's relatives were overcome by emotion
June Steenkamp in court, Pretoria, South Africa - 8 April 2014 Reeva Steenkamp's mother, June, listened intently to Mr Pistorius' testimony

He admitted to having been "sensitive" and "insecure" after he saw his new love chatting to an unknown man at a friend's engagement.

He explained how she apparently ignored him even "after making my presence known" and failed to introduce her to the gentleman - this upset him and he left.

However, he said any argument they had was resolved shortly afterwards.

Oscar Pistorius

South Africa's Oscar Pistorius starts his men's 400m round 1 heats at the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on 4 August 2012
  • Popularly known as "blade runner", he was born without a fibula in both legs
  • Won a key legal battle in 2008, when athletics' governing body, the IAAF, allowed him to compete against able-bodied athletes
  • Made history in London in 2012 by becoming the first amputee sprinter to compete in the Olympics
  • Apologised after claiming that his rival, Brazilian Alan Oliveira, was wearing blades that were too long in the 2012 Paralympics 200m final
  • Arrested and released on bail following the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on 14 February 2013
  • Murder trial starts in March 2014; pleads not guilty

Another detail Mr Pistorius had neglected to mention in his bail application, but added a different version of in his plea application at the start of the trial was how he had whispered to Ms Steenkamp to get down and phone the police after hearing a sound in the bathroom.

In court, he testified that this was as he prepared to leave their bedroom firearm in hand, and charge into where the intruder was - but there was no mention of her replying.

Before firing the shots he told the court he shouted to the burglar to leave his house and for Ms Steenkamp to phone the police.

Terrified by movement behind the toilet he opened fire - still no reply from his girlfriend, not a single sound.

He also did not mention having an argument with Ms Steenkamp that night, rather describing a quiet couple's night in.

The prosecution argues that he killed her in a fit of rage and neighbours have testified to hearing "loud voices" prior to the four shots Mr Pistorius fired.

Mr Pistorius broke down and cried bitterly as he spoke of the moment he discovered Ms Steenkamp's body.

"I don't know how long I was there. She wasn't breathing," he said as his collapsed into his chair, with his hands covering his face.

His loud, visceral howls filled the court room for several minutes but it felt like hours. His sister Aimee rushed to his side to console him.

The court had to adjourn so he could compose himself. Minutes later it adjourned for the day.

Ms Steenkamp's mother, June, was also in court. Some cried around her but she sat quietly, staring at the emotional Mr Pistorius.

INTERACTIVE
  • ×

  • 1. Balcony

    × Balcony

    Mr Pistorius said in his statement at the start of the trial that he woke in the early hours and walked on his stumps to the balcony, pulled in two fans, closed the sliding door and drew curtains. He said that shortly before he had spoken to Reeva, who was in bed beside him.

    He said he rejected prosecution claims that a witness heard arguing coming from the house before the shooting.

  • 2. Bathroom window

    ×

    Mr Pistorius said he heard the bathroom window sliding open and believed that an intruder, or intruders, had entered the bathroom through a window which was not fitted with burglar bars.

    "Unbeknown to me, Reeva must have gone to the toilet in the bathroom at the time I brought in the fans," he said.

    Mr Pistorius said he approached the bathroom armed with his firearm, to defend himself and his girlfriend, believing Ms Steenkamp was still in bed.

  • 3. Shooting

    ×

    Both sides agree four bullets were fired. Ms Steenkamp was hit three times.

    Mr Pistorius said he fired his weapon after hearing a noise in the toilet which he thought was the intruder coming out of the toilet to attack him and Ms Steenkamp.

    He said he was in a fearful state, knowing he was on his stumps and unable to run away or properly defend himself.

    Mr Pistorius said he rejected claims that he was on his prostheses when he shot at the door.

    A witness told the trial she woke to hear a woman screaming and a man shouting for help. She said that after the screams she heard four shots.

  • 4. Bedroom

    ×

    Mr Pistorius said he went back to the bedroom after shooting at the toilet door, still shouting for Reeva. Lifting himself up onto the bed, he felt over to the right hand side of it and noticed Ms Steenkamp was not there.

    Mr Pistorius said this was when he realised she could have been in the toilet.

  • 5. Toilet door

    ×

    Mr Pistorius said he went back to the bathroom but the toilet was locked, so he returned to the bedroom, pulled on his prosthetic legs, turned on the lights before bashing in the toilet door with a cricket bat.

    Forensics expert Johannes Vermeulen told the court that the height of the marks on the door caused by the cricket bat suggest Mr Pistorius was on his stumps at the time.

  • 6. Emergency calls

    ×

    Mr Pistorius's defence team say he then called security at the gated housing complex and a private paramedic service before carrying Ms Steenkamp downstairs.

    A security guard claimed it was the other way round, and he had called Mr Pistorius first after reports of gunfire. However, phone records shown to the court revealed Mr Pistorius called the estate manager at 3:19am, a minute later he called the ambulance service and at 3:21am he called estate security.

    A minute later he received an incoming call - estate security calling him back.

    According to police phone expert Francois Moller, Mr Pistorius called his friend Justin Divaris a short time later and just after 4:00am he called his brother Carl.

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