PRETORIA, South Africa — Oscar Pistorius shook slightly, his hands covering his ears as a neighbour described in court Thursday how the famous athlete knelt next to his dead or dying girlfriend, praying as he tried to help Reeva Steenkamp breathe.
The testimony in high court in Pistorius’ murder trial was riveting and was the first detailed public description of the immediate aftermath of the shooting of Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model, by the double-amputee Paralympic champion in the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 14 — Valentine’s Day — last year.
“It was obvious that she was mortally wounded,” said Johan Stipp, a radiologist, as he described what he saw at Pistorius’ villa. Stipp said he was one of the first there.
“At the bottom of the stairs ... there was a lady lying on her back on the floor,” Stipp testified.
Sitting on a courtroom bench on Thursday, Pistorius bent forward and put his hand over his face, then moved them to cover both ears. He stayed that way for a while, even when one of his lawyers reached back to reassure him and touch him on the head.
“I went near her and as I bent down, I also noticed a man on the left kneeling by her side,” Stipp said under questioning by prosecutor Gerrie Nel. “He had his left hand on her right groin, and his right hand, the second and third fingers in her mouth. I remember the first thing he said when I got there was ’I shot her. I thought she was a burglar. I shot her.”’
Stipp, who said he didn’t know that man was Pistorius until later, said he tried to help, but that he knew it was probably no good because Steenkamp showed no signs of life. Stipp said he noticed a wound in her right thigh, in her upper arm and in the right side of the head, and there was brain tissue around the skull.
Pistorius is charged with shooting Steenkamp three times out of four shots through a toilet door in his home. Prosecutors said the athlete intentionally killed Steenkamp after an argument but Pistorius says it was a mistake.
“She had no pulse in the neck, she had no peripheral pulse. She had no breathing movements that she made,” Stipp said.
“Oscar was crying all the time,” he said. “He was praying to God, ’Please let her live.”’
“Oscar said he would dedicate ”his life and her life to God“ if she would live and not die that night, according to Stipp.
Pistorius, who ran at the 2012 Olympics on his prosthetic legs and who was known as the Blade Runner, is charged with murder with premeditation.
Pistorius’ lead defence lawyer started the fourth day of the trial by cross-examining another neighbour and questioning whether the man heard a woman screaming and then gunshots on the night Steenkamp died.
The neighbour, Charl Johnson, said he also owned a gun, a 9mm pistol, and knew what gunfire sounded like.
“I can confidently say I heard gunshots,” Johnson insisted on cross-examination by Barry Roux. Later, Johnson said: “I’m convinced that I heard a lady’s voice.”
Roux says the banging sounds were actually Pistorius hitting a toilet door with a cricket bat and the screaming was the distressed athlete calling for help — and there were no sounds from Steenkamp who had been shot in the head.
Johnson said he “disputed” some of what Roux was saying and described in more detail what he heard on the night Pistorius shot his girlfriend to death. Johnson and his wife live around 177 metres from Pistorius’ villa.
“The fear ... in the lady person’s calls contrasted with a very monotone male voice,” Johnson testified. “The man almost sounded embarrassed to be calling for help.”
Johnson also said the timing of the bangs didn’t match a repeated bat swing. He said it would have taken Pistorius more time to swing the bat repeatedly, and that the bangs he heard were closer together.
Roux did get Johnson to concede that he never heard what he thought was the woman’s voice and the man’s voice at the same time. Roux wants to show that it was the same person, Pistorius, screaming.
The sequence of events soon after 3 a.m. on the morning of Feb. 14 last year is a critical aspect of the case. Prosecutors say there was a loud argument between Pistorius and Steenkamp before the shooting. Pistorius says there was no argument and that he had thought Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model, was in bed when he fired through the locked toilet stall door.