Oscar Pistorius Trial Day 11: Paralympian knew he was breaking the law

Oscar Pistorius Trial Day 11: Paralympian knew he was breaking the law

PRETORIA, South Africa – When Paralympian Oscar Pistorius shot his 9mm Parabellum pistol through a locked toilet door on Valentine's Day last year – even if he believed there was an intruder on the other side – he knew he was breaking the law.

In a gun competency test he took in September 2012, Pistorius explained when a gun owner is allowed to use lethal force against an intruder.

"Attack must be against you," he wrote. "Must be unlawful. Must be against person."

When the athlete killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on the morning of Feb. 14, 2013, by his account, the model was in a locked toilet, there was no attack and he had no idea who was inside.

The gun competency test – a requirement before a gun license is issued in South Africa – was completed by his own hand. On it, one of his answers reads, "Know your target, and what lies beyond."

Pistorius' full understanding of the illegality of his actions becomes even clearer in his responses to the hypothetical scenarios posed.

You are at home alone in an isolated area, Question 2 asks, far from police and security services. You see two strange men jump over your wall, heading for your house late at night, and you are not expecting visitors. Have they committed an offense that justifies the use of lethal force against them?

With his slightly slanted penmanship, Pistorius answered, "No."

Another questions asks, if the men come to your house, break off the burglar bar, climb in through the window and start to remove your "extremely expensive Hi-Fi," can you discharge a firearm at them?

Again, in pen, "No."

When the burglars realize you're there, behind a security gate 10 meters away, they turn around and order you to leave, or they will kill you; can you discharge a firearm at them because you "fear for your life?"

Another, "No."

It continues:

"There is no security gate between you and burglars and they turn around and both are armed, one with a knife and the other with the firearm in their hands, and they advance towards you. Can you discharge a firearm at them because you fear for your life?"

"Yes," Pistorius answered.

The examiner, in scrawled ballpoint, has given Pistorius full marks.

The test shows Pistorius understood the rules of gun ownership and self defense, yet blatantly flouted them.

The start of the third week of the trial saw the return of Steenkamp's mother June, who was in court for the first time since the trial opened on March 3. Two weeks ago, Pistorius barely made eye contact with her, prompting her to accuse him in interviews of ignoring her.

On Monday, he softly greeted the mother of the woman he shot dead, across the narrow wooden barrier separating the public gallery from the dock.

June Steenkamp nodded her head slightly, acknowledging the awkward greeting, before Pistorius' sister Aimee approached her, sitting briefly and speaking to those gathered on what has become the Steenkamp side of court. Reeva's mother patted her hand.

The key witness on Day 11 of the trial was Sean Rens, Pistorius' gun trainer from the "Hotshots" Training Institute. It was Rens who read aloud the answers Pistorius had given on his gun competency test, after speaking of the athlete's "great love and enthusiasm" for guns.

Rens said Pistorius had also spoken of an occasion when he went into "full combat mode" or a "code red" after hearing a noise in his home, "clearing his house" with his gun in hand, only to find it was the tumble dryer.

The Paralympian even tweeted about it.

"Nothing like getting home to hear the washing machine on and thinking its an intruder to go into full combat recon mode into the pantry! waa (sic)" Pistorius tweeted in November 2012.

In cross-examination, defense attorney Barry Roux asked Rens about Pistorius' skill with a weapon – pointing out that he shot through the bathroom door at a height of three feet from the floor, meaning he was more likely to hit a person's body than head.

The gun trainer nodded. It is a point in the defense's "tragic accident" narrative, likely to recur.

Rens, a gun enthusiast himself, described most South African gun collectors as "upstanding people," saying that the Black Talon bullets (which Pistorius shot at Reeva Steenkamp) were "less lethal," despite expert testimony that they are designed to cause the maximum possible damage to human tissue.

But the 9mm pistol Pistorius used to shoot Steenkamp in the head, arm and hip was not the only gun he hoped to own.

Rens handed over invoices to the court detailing Pistorius' hefty order of firearms worth some R83,610 (nearly $7,800), in June 2012. It includes two Smith & Wesson revolvers – a .500 caliber and a 38 Special – and three shotguns, including a Mossberg semi-automatic self-loading shotgun, and a Winchester Defender pump-action shotgun.

It also includes two self-loading rifles: a Luvo rifle, and a Vektor LM6 semi-automatic – the civilian version of the military rifle that South African police were armed with during a miners' strike in Marikana that year, when they shot 34 people dead.

The order was cancelled days after he shot Steenkamp.

When he placed the order for the seven firearms, Pistorius did not have the appropriate license to own more than four. In January 2013, just over three weeks before he shot his girlfriend dead with his licensed 9mm, he applied for licenses for six more guns.

His anticipation of his new firearm collection may explain why, in his safe, under the shelf holding a gold medal, next to keys and boxed awards, he had locked away a box of .38 caliber bullets.

The ammunition, tucked away in a wardrobe amid a collection of hooded jumpers, was retrieved by Pistorius' brother Carl when he opened the code-locked safe after the Valentine's Day shooting, and handed over to the family's lawyer.

Pistorius is also charged with illegally possessing ammunition and recklessly discharging a firearm on two occasions, in addition to the murder of his girlfriend, who he says he believed to be an intruder.

Monday also saw a return viewing of album after album of forensic photographs, as the state tried to claw back the credibility of their forensics team. Last week it emerged that police had handled Pistorius' gun without gloves, submitted twisted statements that contradicted each other, and had to open a case of theft after two expensive watches went missing during the investigation.

Warrant officer Bennie van Staden, the forensic photographer who documented the scene, returned to the stand as the prosecution spent some two and a half hours reviewing quarantine photos, asking van Staden to establish when they were taken in order to establish that there was no tampering.

Amid the 15 photograph albums, several previously-unseen images emerged: close-ups of the twisted Black Talon bullet fragments in the bloodied toilet next to a glossy women's magazine featuring the world's "101 sexiest men," and more blood spatter – this time above the headboard in the main bedroom, and on Pistorius' duvet.

As the crime scene photographs scrolled past on monitors around the courtroom, June Steenkamp got up quietly and left.

Van Staden returns to the stand Tuesday.

Click on the image below for more photos from the Oscar Pistorius trial: