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PRETORIA, South Africa -- Oscar Pistorius trembled slightly, his hands covering his ears, as a neighbor described in court on Thursday how the famous parathlete 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 predawn hours of Feb. 14, 2013.
"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 people to reach the scene.
"At the bottom of the stairs ... there was a lady lying on her back on the floor," Stipp testified.
Sitting on a courtroom bench Thursday, Pistorius bent forward and put his hands 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 the man was Pistorius until later, said he tried to help but knew it was probably no good because Steenkamp showed no signs of life. Stipp said he noticed wounds in her right thigh, her upper arm and 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 bathroom door in his home. Prosecutors said the athlete intentionally killed Steenkamp after an argument but Pistorius says it was a mistake and that he thought there was an intruder in the house.
"She had no pulse in the neck, she had no peripheral pulse," Stipp said. "She had no breathing movements that she made. Oscar was crying all the time. He was praying to God, 'Please let her live.'"
|Oscar Pistorius covers his ears during testimony by neighbor John Stipp, who described how Pistorius knelt next to his dead or dying girlfriend. "Oscar was crying all the time," said Stipp, a radiologist. "He was praying to God, 'Please let her live.'"|
According to Stipp, Pistorius said he'd dedicate "his life and her life to God" if she would live and not die that night.
Pistorius, who ran at the 2012 London Olympics on his prosthetic legs and is known as the Blade Runner, is charged with murder with premeditation.
His lead defense lawyer, Barry Roux, started the fourth day of the trial by cross-examining another neighbor and questioning whether the man heard a woman screaming and then gunshots on the night Steenkamp was killed.
The neighbor, 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 Roux. Later, Johnson said: "I'm convinced that I heard a lady's voice."
Roux says the banging sounds were actually Pistorius breaking through the bathroom door with a cricket bat and the screaming was the distressed athlete calling for help -- and there were no sounds from Steenkamp.
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. Johnson and his wife live about 200 yards 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 repeated bat swings. 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. that day 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 was in bed when he fired through the locked bathroom door.