Oscar Pistorius trial Day 6: Blade Runner vomits as girlfriend's injuries are detailed

PRETORIA, South Africa – Clutching a white handkerchief in his fingers, Oscar Pistorius tried to cover his ears and threw up.

The Paralympian gagged and heaved with sobs, as forensic pathologist Gert Saayman detailed the injuries he inflicted on his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine's morning last year.

Hunched over a plastic bucket in the dock, the murder-accused vomited repeatedly, as Saayman read his 12-page matter-of-fact autopsy report, paragraph by paragraph.

Concerned about Pistorius' state, Judge Thokozile Masipa initially called for a brief adjournment to allow the athlete to gather himself. But when court reconvened, it became evident that his emotional upheaval was not a passing episode.

"Is your client fine?" Judge Masipa asked defense counsel Barry Roux.

"He's not fine, my lady," he replied. "He is very emotional and that isn't going to change."

Monday's testimony began with Pieter Baba, the nightshift security guard who said he spoke with Pistorius after he shot Steenkamp, insisting that the athlete told him, "Everything is fine."

Baba was challenged by the defense about his recollection of Valentine's morning, with Roux presenting phone records to the court that suggest Pistorius called Baba first. Roux says Pistorius told Baba "he" was fine, rather than speaking about the situation as a whole.

Saayman's testimony followed, as the court tried to focus on the evidence presented, not the audibly retching figure in the dock.

The pathologist requested a court order – granted by the judge – preventing the live broadcast of his testimony, citing ethical concerns that the unfiltered broadcast of explicit and graphic evidence would not respect the dignity of Steenkamp. Judge Masipa chose to also restrict live reporting via Twitter and online blogs.

The bullets that killed Steenkamp were "designed to cause maximum tissue damage," Saayman told the court, "mushrooming" on their path after initial contact with human tissue. A "Black Talon" bullet, which Saayman explained as expanding like sharp, jagged petals of a flower, was recovered from Steenkamp's head wound.

"It is what nightmares are made of," prosecutor Gerrie Nel told the judge.

Gesturing to show the court where Steenkamp's injuries were located, Saayman described three major gunshot wounds – in her right upper arm, her right hip and her head. He said any one of them could have been fatal on their own.

The pathologist also reported an injury on the webbing of her left hand, between the second and third fingers, as if a gunshot had passed through, traveling from the back of her hand in the direction of her palm. Saayman said there were also several indistinct bruises on her thigh, shin and below her knee, which he believed to be injuries that were a day or so old.

The wound that caused the most damage, according to Saayman's testimony, appeared to have been the one to Steenkamp's head, caused seemingly by a bullet traveling on a downwards trajectory from the top of her head towards the base of her skull, although the pathologist was careful to note her head could have been in various positions when the bullet struck at a shallow angle. He said the gunshot would have been "immediately incapacitating," rendering her "for all intents and purposes, incapable of voluntary actions," and knocking her unconscious.

Saayman's testimony here is critical as both the prosecution and defense continue to put together their detailed sequence of events.

Both sides agree that there were two sets of noises that night. The prosecution contends the second set included the gunshots that killed Steenkamp, while the defense argues the first set was the gunshots, the second coming when Pistorius tried to break down the bathroom door with a cricket bat.

The distinction is crucial. In earlier testimony, witnesses testified to hearing two different voices, while the defense claims the two voices were actually one – Pistorius' – and that Steenkamp would have been unable to scream during the moment (the second set of noises) in question.

The timing of what was heard when and the order of the shots fired by Pistorius will be argued in the coming days.

The pathologist also described various superficial cuts and abrasions on Steenkamp's body, which suggests that several bullets had "traversed an intermediary target, like a wooden object or a door," lodging splinters in her skin.

He said the gunshot which struck her abdomen would have shattered her right hip bone, which would have been "incapacitating" for moving about.

Photographs of Steenkamp's wounds were not shown to the gallery, but only to the judge and court assessors.

Pistorius, periodically rubbing his face with trembling fingers, continued to heave into the bucket at his feet.

During the lunch recess, his sister Aimee hugged him in the dock as he sat sobbing with his head in his hands. An aunt, seemingly also a counselor, arrived in a rain-spattered cardigan to hold his hand.

Young mother Ebba Guðný Guðmundsdóttir handed Pistorius a tissue dabbed with peppermint essential oil in an effort to calm the Paralympian, who she travelled from Iceland to support.

Guðmundsdóttir's seven-year-old son Haflidi – who is also a double amputee – still treasures the gold medal the star athlete gave to him after his win at the Manchester Paralympic World Cup in 2009, saying, "This is for you, champion."

Guðmundsdóttir says she believes Pistorius' account of the incident entirely – that he fired his gun through a locked bathroom door thinking an intruder was on the other side – and is simply unable to imagine that the man who has shown her son such kindness could have murdered his girlfriend intentionally.

Crucially, Saayman's testimony has shed more light on the timeline of events – and provided more detail on Steenkamp's situation behind the locked toilet door.

Admitting that forensic pathology may not be an "exact science," Saayman said he believed that Steenkamp had eaten not longer than two hours before her death, a direct contradiction with Pistorius' account of the evening.

Although the pathologist has not yet given his estimated time of death, witness testimony indicates the gunshots that killed the model were fired after 3 a.m. that morning, suggesting that she would have been awake and eating around 1 a.m.

In his bail affidavit, Pistorius describes their "quiet dinner together at home," and says they were in their bedroom by 10 o'clock that evening, before going to bed soon after.

Saayman also detailed the "defects" in Steenkamp's clothing – a black vest top and grey Nike shorts – including the hole in the waistband of the shorts that corresponded with her hip wound, suggesting that she was wearing them when she was shot, despite being in the toilet.

Saayman says Reggie Perumal, the forensic pathologist for the defense, was present at the autopsy and seemed to agree with his interpretation of the evidence.

The crowd in court is growing by the day.

Pistorius' ex-girlfriend Samantha Taylor was back in court Monday, this time in the public gallery, watching proceedings.

Sitting on the front bench with the Paralympian's family was his coach Ampie Louw, who arrived to support the Blade Runner.

And, crammed into benches amid the media, ahead of South Africa's elections in early May, were dozens of T-shirt wearing activists, including 17 members of the African National Congress' Women's League wearing Steenkamp's portraits on their lapels, five women in the bright orange of a small breakaway political party and members of the African Christian Democratic Party who said they wanted "justice to be done."

Prosecutor Nel is expected to complete his examination of Saayman – the 10h state witness out of a possible 107 – Tuesday morning, followed by a cross examination by defense counsel Roux.

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


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