Expert describes shooting scene

Updated: March 19, 2014, 11:29 AM ET
Associated Press

PRETORIA, South Africa -- The chief prosecutor in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial says he plans to wrap up his case early next week after calling four or five more witnesses.

Judge Thokozile Masipa granted a request on Wednesday from prosecutor Gerrie Nel to adjourn the trial until Monday so that Nel has time to consult his last witnesses. No court session was scheduled on Friday, which is a national holiday in South Africa.

Defense lawyer Barry Roux said the trial is expensive and he does not want to delay proceedings, although he did not object to Nel's request.

Meanwhile, a police ballistics expert testified Wednesday that Reeva Steenkamp was standing in a toilet cubicle and facing the closed door when she was hit in the right hip by the first of four hollow point bullets fired through the door by Pistorius.

Steenkamp then fell back onto a magazine holder in the cubicle and was struck in the right arm and head by the last two shots fired by Pistorius with a 9mm pistol. Pistorius' girlfriend crossed her arms over her head to protect herself, Capt. Christiaan Mangena said, when she was hit in the arm and head. He testified that he believed the second bullet shot missed Steenkamp and ricocheted off a wall inside the cubicle and broke into fragments, which caused bruising on her back.

Mangena concluded through his analysis of the shooting scene and wounds on Steenkamp's body from post-mortem photographs that one of the final two bullets went through Steenkamp's left hand before penetrating her skull as she held it over her head. The policeman said he couldn't determine the order of the last two shots.

Pistorius, 27, is charged with premeditated murder in Steenkamp's shooting death on Feb. 14, 2013, and faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted. He says he shot Steenkamp, 29, by mistake through a locked door in his bathroom because he thought she was an intruder.

The parathlete says Steenkamp went to use the toilet during the night without him knowing, but prosecutors maintain he killed her after a loud argument that caused her to possibly flee and hide in the toilet area.

As Mangena threw his hands up to cover his head in court and replicate the "defensive position'' he said Steenkamp took as the last shots were fired, Pistorius put his fingers in his ears in an apparent attempt to block out the testimony.

June Steenkamp, Reeva's mother, also was in the courtroom and occasionally glanced at photos of the bloody scene of her daughter's shooting before looking away.

Mangena said the bullet that struck Steenkamp's skull broke into two fragments, one of which exited her head and struck the wall behind her. The first shot into the right hip broke Steenkamp's hip bone, Mangena said.

"I'm of the opinion that after this wound was inflicted, my lady, she dropped immediately,'' Mangena said, addressing the judge in court under questioning from Nel. Steenkamp slumped into a "seated or semi-seated position'' on top of the magazine rack in the cubicle, where she was hit another two times, he said.

"She ended up with her head on top of the toilet seat, and the lower part of her body on the rack," Mangena said.

Pistorius fired from a distance of at least 60 centimeters and no further than a wall behind him, about 3 meters away, Mangena said. Mangena also described the impact of the type of bullets in Pistorius' gun, which were designed to cause maximum damage, he said.

"It hits the target, it opens up, it creates six talons, and these talons are sharp,'' Mangena said. "It cuts through the organs of a human being.''

He noted the Black Talon brand of ammunition was often used for self-defense because while it caused significant damage to a human target, it was less likely to penetrate the first target and hit other people.

Roux cross-examined Mangena and said the defense's own forensic and ballistic experts would challenge the policeman's testimony regarding the sequence of the shots. Roux also said defense experts had recovered a bullet and fragments from the toilet bowl that police missed. Mangena said he was aware of that.

Mangena testified he conducted shooting tests to try to pinpoint the location from which the bullets were fired by Pistorius in the bathroom, based on where cartridge cases were found. However, in his tests, he said, the cases fell at different angles. He also noted that the cartridge cases at the scene of Steenkamp's shooting could have been "moved or kicked around'' during the investigation.

He said Pistorius was probably on his stumps when he fired, supporting the athlete's statement that he was not wearing his prosthetic limbs when he opened fire.

Nel also asked Mangena to comment on a 2012 incident in which Pistorius allegedly fired his gun out of the sunroof of a moving car. The athlete faces a firearms charge in that case, as well as two other firearms-related charges.

Mangena said firing a shot in such circumstances was dangerous.

The bullet leaves the barrel at around 280 meters (900 feet) a second, and will travel upward, then stop and fall to the ground under the force of gravity and wind deflection, he said.

"The bullet can still kill a person,'' Mangena said.


Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press

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