Autopsy Details Revealed in Oscar Pistorius Murder Trial


(Photo Credit: Pool video still via CNN)

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PRETORIA, South Africa (CNN) — Reeva Steenkamp suffered three devastating injuries, any one of which could potentially have killed her, when her boyfriend Oscar Pistorius shot hollow-tipped bullets through a bathroom door into her hip, arm and head, the pathologist who conducted her autopsy said.

Given the angle of the bullet that passed through her skull, it’s unlikely she was standing when the shot hit her above the right eye, Gert Saayman told the judge who must decide if Pistorius murdered her deliberately or mistook her for a burglar, as he claims.

That shot, the last of three to hit her, was “incapacitating and probably almost instantly fatal,” the pathologist said.

Pistorius retched into a bucket throughout Saayman’s two hours of testimony on Monday, clutching his head in his hands and covering his ears between rounds of weeping, vomiting and dry heaving.

And there’s likely to be more of the same when Saayman returns to the stand on Tuesday. He’s due to continue testifying briefly for the prosecution before he is cross-examined by the defense.

At the request of lawyers on both sides and Saayman himself, Judge Thokozile Masipa banned the live transmission of the pathologist’s testimony. Ruling it too grisly, she ordered no live broadcasting, tweeting or blogging.

Pistorius, 27, does not deny firing the bullets that killed Steenkamp, but pleaded not guilty when his trial opened March 3, saying his action was a terrible mistake, not the deliberate murder of his model girlfriend of nearly four months.

She was 29 when she died in the early hours of Valentine’s Day 2013.

Saayman said her wounds were consistent with “ranger” bullets, which open up “like the petals of a flower” inside a body to cause maximum tissue damage.

The edges of “ranger” bullet fragments are so sharp that medical students are warned about them.

If surgeons or pathologists operate on a person shot with them, “you need to be particularly careful because you can easily cut or injure yourself on these jagged edges,” Saayman testified.

Saayman also testified that the state of food in Steenkamp’s stomach at the autopsy suggests she probably ate within two hours of her death.

Security guard on the stand

The case against Pistorius is largely circumstantial, prosecutor Gerrie Nel conceded in his opening statement last week, because Pistorius and Steenkamp were the only people in his house the night he killed her.

Nel has been trying to build a picture of what happened through the testimony of neighbors who heard screaming and bangs that night, current and former friends of the South African track star, and a security guard who sped to the scene because of reports of gunshots.

Guard Pieter Baba said he talked by phone to Pistorius the night of the killing and Pistorius said “Security, everything is fine” as Baba drove to his house on a secure estate.

On Friday, Baba said he could hear Pistorius was crying and he knew everything was not fine.

Baba arrived at the house in time to witness Pistorius coming down the stairs carrying Steenkamp.

“I was so shocked, I couldn’t think for a few moments,” he testified.

But defense lawyer Barry Roux said records of the two phone calls between the men that night did not support the guard’s story.

They showed Pistorius called Baba first, while Baba insisted he called Pistorius first.

The hard-hitting cross-examination was typical of how Roux has gone after holes, doubts, discrepancies and inconsistencies in prosecution witness stories.

He is trying to sow reasonable doubt that their memories of events are correct.

Gun at his bedside

Many prosecution witnesses so far have told stories which could be consistent with the Pistorius version of events: that he got up in the night, went out to his balcony to get a fan, came back inside and heard noises in the bathroom which he thought were an intruder.

He said he took the gun and fired, while calling for Steenkamp to call the police. Only when she didn’t answer did he realize it could have been her in the bathroom, he said.

Samantha Taylor, a former girlfriend of Pistorius, testified Friday that he reacted similarly once when she was sleeping at his house.

She said Pistorius once heard something hit a bathroom window and woke her up to ask if she’d heard it, too, before taking his gun and going to investigate. Taylor said Pistorius woke her up other times when he thought he’d heard a noise.

Taylor also testified that Pistorius slept with a pistol on his bedside table or on the floor beside his prosthetic legs and once became so angry after a traffic stop that he shot a gun through the sunroof of a car.

Roux asked Taylor for details about the time he supposedly shot the gun out of the sunroof, but Taylor could not remember the name of the highway or the location in South Africa. She testified that Pistorius was angry and irritated after a traffic stop, which turned into an argument between him and police about his gun. She said he joked around about firing a shot and then laughed after he fired.

That incident is one of the basis for two gun charges Pistorius faces, unrelated to the killing of Steenkamp.

Prosecutors appear to have been trying to demonstrate that Pistorius and Steenkamp had a loud argument before the shooting, suggesting it’s the reason he killed her.

But the defense is proposing that what neighbors thought was Steenkamp screaming in fear for her life was in fact Pistorius when he realized what he had done.

Pistorius and at least two neighbors made phone calls to security after the shooting, allowing the defense to use phone records to establish a time line of events.

Masipa will decide Pistorius’s verdict. South Africa does not have jury trials.

In South Africa, premeditated murder carries a mandatory life sentence, with a minimum of 25 years. Pistorius also could get five years for each gun indictment and 15 years for the firearms charge.

If he isn’t convicted of premeditated murder, the sprinter could face a lesser charge of culpable homicide, a crime based on negligence, and could be looking at up to 15 years on that charge, experts said. The trial is expected to take at least three weeks.

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