PRETORIA, South Africa – It was a new relationship: passionate, tumultuous and all-consuming.
"I'm the girl who let go with u, even when I was scared out of my mind to," Reeva Steenkamp wrote in a text message to Oscar Pistorius less than three weeks before he shot and killed her.
"I'm the girl who fell in love with u and wanted to tell u this weekend but I'm also the girl that gets sidestepped when you are in a [expletive] mood. When I feel you think u have me so why try anymore …"
Monday in Courtroom GD, as Pistorius listened to the intensely private messages his girlfriend had sent to him, haltingly read from the witness stand by a rotund police expert, the Paralympian sat quietly in the dock, silent tears rolling down his cheeks.
Their inclusion in Monday's testimony was another attempt by the prosecution to demonstrate the Blade Runner's combustible personality, as they try to prove what transpired on Valentine's Day last year was no case of mistaken identity – that Pistorius fired through a locked bathroom door knowing Steenkamp, not an intruder as he claims, was on the other side.
"From the outside I think it looks like we are a struggle and maybe that's what we are," she wrote in one message. "I just want to love and be loved. Be happy and make someone SO happy. Maybe we can't do that for each other. Cos right now I know u aren't happy and I am certainly very unhappy and sad, [sic]"
It was a young romance plagued with insecurity, jealousy and all the trouble that comes with celebrity, as two people – one a world-renowned athlete – tried to navigate each other.
From the few messages read aloud to the court, the private Pistorius emerges as overly critical, possessive and self-absorbed; throwing public tantrums, accusing Steenkamp of flirting with other men, and putting his wants ahead of his girlfriend's needs.
"I get snapped at and told my accents and voices are annoying. I touch your neck to show u I care you tell me to stop. Stop chewing gum. Do this don't do that. You don't want to hear stuff cut me off," she wrote to him in the weeks before her death.
Steenkamp appeared to be trying to make it work – making an effort to be the perfect partner at the parties Pistorius had to attend, leaving early, trying to help him deal with his fans.
"I am trying my best to make u happy and I feel as tho u sometimes never are no matter the effort I put in," she wrote to him on Jan. 7, 2013, after he'd criticized her at a public function they'd attended together. "I can't be attacked by outsiders for dating u AND be attacked by you, the one person I deserve protection from."
But the problems she described are also not wholly unusual for a new relationship – both grappling with mentions of previous partners, and their "double-standard relationship" beset by his mood swings. Their WhatsApp conversation also suggests an honesty and willingness to work through problems and communicate openly.
"I'm scared of u sometimes and how u snap at me and of how u will react to me. You make me happy 90% of the time and I think we are amazing together but I'm not some other bitch you may know trying to kill your vibe, [sic]" Steenkamp wrote after Pistorius forced her to leave a friend's engagement party early, saying she was "SO upset."
Pistorius replied: "I want to talk to you, I want to sort this out.. I don't want have anything less than amazing for you and I.. I'm sorry for things I say without thinking and for taking offense to some of your actions. The fact that I'm tired and sick isn't an excuse."
What was read in court Monday were only a tiny selection of the 1,709 WhatsApp messages between the ill-fated couple found on Steenkamp's phone, according to testimony from police phone expert captain Francois Moller.
"Ninety percent were normal conversations and loving conversations," he told the court.
The Paralympian also sent his girlfriend a message on Jan. 11: "Angel please don't say a thing to any one.. Darren told everyone it was his fault. I can't afford for that to come out. The guys promised not to say a thing.”
Pistorius faces charges of recklessly discharging a firearm in a busy restaurant, in an incident on that day. He maintains he is not guilty and has denied that he asked witness Darren Fresco to "take the rap."
Moller, who was involved in the data download – including previously deleted information from four cellphones (two iPhones, two Blackberries which weren't in use), two iPads and a MacBook – returns to the stand Tuesday.
The police captain has yet to testify about the contents of the murder-accused's two cellphones, one of which he says was not originally submitted.
Neighbor Annette Stipp also told the court Monday of a WhatsApp message she sent on Feb. 14 last year, to friends who asked her how her Valentine's morning had been.
"We had a very crappy start to ours, because our neighbor had killed his girlfriend," she told her friends.
Awoken just before 3 a.m. by a coughing fit, she is the first witness who has testified to being awake before hearing two sets of three "shots". Stipp, the wife of witness Johan Stipp, says she went out onto her small bedroom balcony – 236 feet from Pistorius' home – to see what was going on.
Her testimony includes three crucial additions to the prosecution's complex timeline of events.
Stipp is adamant that she heard both male and female voices – a woman screaming, and a man's lower tone – as other witnesses have testified to earlier in the trial. But Stipp clearly states that she heard both voices at exactly the same time for a short period, thereby precluding the defense's suggestion that the female screaming could actually be that of a distressed Pistorius. The athlete says his girlfriend made no verbal sound and so he mistook her for an intruder.
Stipp also said her recollection of the screaming, which she described as "terrified, terrified screaming," was of "an almost simultaneous observation" with that of what she thought to be the first set of gunshots. It matches forensic pathologist Gert Saayman's testimony that it would have been "unnatural" for anyone not to have screamed had they received similar wounds to Steenkamp, if in fact they were inflicted prior to her head injury.
Stipp said she heard the female screams continue during the second set of shots, ending only with "the last shot fired, then silence."
The neighbor's testimony also – critically – returns to the light in the Pistorius' bathroom window. Stipp's husband Johan has said the light was on as he went onto the balcony to investigate the sounds, and recalled seeing a figure move past.
Annette Stipp says she noticed Pistorius' bathroom light was on before she heard either sets of shots fired.
In his bail affidavit, Pistorius said he fired his gun, backed out of the bathroom, searched for Reeva in the dark, then returned to the bathroom calling her name. When he realized the toilet door was locked, he rushed to the balcony on the other side of the bedroom to scream for help, then put his prostheses on and ran to the bathroom and tried to kick the toilet door down. Only then – according to his account – did he turn on the lights.
Annette Stipp goes beyond noticing only the bathroom lights, saying on the stand that she also noticed a light in the left window – the enclosed toilet cubicle. Pistorius' lawyers have stated that the light in the toilet was not working, which suggests that for light to be visible the door would have to be open.
The athlete's defense team has repeatedly asserted that screaming from the closed cubicle would not be audible for neighbors, insinuating that they had mistaken the "female" cries for that of Pistorius. If the door were open prior to the shooting, Steenkamp's screams would have been more likely to carry through the open window.
Advocate Kenny Oldwadge, who undertook Stipp's cross examination instead of defense attorney Barry Roux, made few friends in Courtroom GD, staring incredulously at the witness over the top of his precariously perched spectacles, and even at one point argued with the stern judge. One journalist described his pompous attitude as that of a "Dickensian schoolmaster."
The star athlete announced Sunday that he is selling the luxury 4-bedroom home where he killed his girlfriend, in order to "raise the necessary funds to cover his increasing legal costs." In a statement from his attorneys, Pistorius said he "cannot contemplate ever returning to live there again," and although had planned to keep the house sealed until after the trial, the extension of trial dates beyond the initial three-week period has forced him to "revisit this decision."
Similar properties in the secure Silver Woods estate are valued in the region of $320,000, but agents estimate that the Paralympian's home will be sold for a sum closer to $460,000. Pistorius' legal team, including an American forensic reconstruction team and high-profile defense attorney Roux, costs reportedly around $9,200 a day.
- Society & Culture
- Crime & Justice
- Oscar Pistorius
- Reeva Steenkamp