Pistorius trial: Reeva Steenkamp shot in 'rapid fire'

Pistorius trial day 23 - in 60 secs

The girlfriend of Oscar Pistorius was shot in quick succession as she fell down, a forensics expert has told the South African athlete's murder trial.

This differs from a police ballistics witness who said there was short break between the first and second shots.

Mr Pistorius denies intentionally killing Ms Steenkamp in early hours of Valentine's Day last year.

He says he fired rapidly in fear through the toilet door after he mistook Ms Steenkamp for an intruder.

The prosecution says the 29-year-old model and law graduate was deliberately killed after the couple had an argument.

The double amputee Olympic and Paralympic athlete faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted of premeditated murder.

The trial has been adjourned until Thursday, which will be the last day before a break; proceedings will resume on Monday 5 May.

Analysis

The focus has now shifted from Oscar Pistorius' distress on the stand to some technical evidence from his team's second expert witness, forensic geologist Roger Dixon. He may not be an orator but his testimony forms a crucial part of bolstering Mr Pistorius' version of events.

Mr Dixon, who is something of an all-round expert having formerly worked with the police, gave wide-ranging evidence on the stand, including his findings on the light in Mr Pistorius' house at night, sound tests and ballistics analysis.

But it is this wide-ranging nature of his evidence that Prosecutor Gerrie Nel is calling into question. Mr Nel suggested to the court that the methods used for the tests were quite pedestrian, implying that a layman could have done them.

Mr Dixon conceded, perhaps more than he would have liked to, that he was not an expert on many of the fields he testified on, but stuck to his findings. He tried to explain to the court how, as a scientist, he has used the fundamental principles applied in geology to analyse the crime scene and all its elements.

'Layman's understanding'

Forensics expert Roger Dixon, a defence witness, says Ms Steenkamp was standing at an angle to the door and that all four bullets hit her as fell to the ground.

Earlier in the trial, ballistics expert Captain Christiaan Mangena said he believed Ms Steenkamp was standing up facing the closed door when she was hit in the right hip.

He said she then fell back onto a magazine rack next to the toilet before three more bullets were fired at the door, one of which missed her.

The BBC's Pumza Fihlani in court says Mr Dixon's testimony challenges the state's version that Ms Steenkamp would have had time to scream after the first bullet and that Mr Pistorius then changed aim and continued firing.

On Tuesday, Mr Dixon told the court his tests showed that with the light out, Mr Pistorius' bedroom would have been almost completely dark on the evening of the shooting, despite a couple of LED lights.

This also supports Mr Pistorius' evidence that he did not see whether Ms Steenkamp was still in bed when he got up.

The court also heard sound recordings Mr Dixon had made - of a cricket bat striking a door similar to the one in Mr Pistorius' toilet, and of gunshots fired through the door at a distance of 60m (196ft) and 180m.

Mr Dixon seemed to struggle to tell the sounds apart, which the defence will use to cast doubt on what neighbours say they heard that night, our correspondent says.

Prosecution witnesses have testified to hearing a woman scream followed by gun shots, but the defence disputes their testimony, saying the only scream came from Mr Pistorius - after he had fired.

Oscar Pistorius reads out the message in his Valentine card

But prosecutor Gerrie Nel has sought to cast doubt on Mr Dixon's credibility and qualifications as a forensics witness during his cross examination on Wednesday.

Start Quote

However well his forensic experts proceed to shore up his testimony in the coming days, Mr Pistorius' credibility has been damaged”

End Quote

Mr Dixon is a geologist and university lecturer who worked as head of materials analysis at a police forensic laboratory in Pretoria for 18 years until 2012 and repeatedly said he was not a ballistics expert.

Mr Nel also sought to prove that he was out of his depth when he was testifying about marks on Ms Steenkamp's body.

He had identified one as a bruise which other pathologists had not, Mr Nel said.

At one stage Mr Dixon used the phrase "in my layman's understanding".

"Now you call yourself a layman. You see how irresponsible it is to make inferences that aren't in your area of expertise," Mr Nel replied.

Mr Dixon took the stand after seven days of testimony from the sprinter came to an end with him reading a Valentine's Day card from his girlfriend.

Forensic expert Roger Dixon points at the door through which Reeva Steenkamp was shot, 15 April 2014 Mr Dixon told the court that in his opinion the bullets were fired first then the cricket bat was used
A picture taken on 26 January 26 2013 shows Olympian sprinter Oscar Pistorius posing next to his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp at Melrose Arch in Johannesburg Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp had been dating for three months

If Mr Pistorius is acquitted of murder, the court must consider an alternative charge of culpable homicide, for which he could receive about 15 years in prison.

He also faces charges of illegally firing a gun in public and of illegally possessing ammunition, both of which he denies.

There are no juries at trials in South Africa, and his fate will be decided by the judge, assisted by two assessors.

Mr Pistorius is known as the "Blade Runner" because of the carbon-fibre prosthetics he uses on the track.

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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