Saturday 27 December 2014

'He was a broken man, he cried 80% of the time,' social worker tells Oscar Pistorius trial

Published 08/05/2014 | 11:40

South African Olympic and Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius sits in the dock during his murder trial in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria May 8, 2014
South African Olympic and Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius sits in the dock during his murder trial in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria May 8, 2014
An aerial view of the home of Oscar Pistorius in a gated housing complex in Pretoria, South Africa.

A social worker and probation officer who visited Oscar Pistorius in a police cell the day after he shot dead Reeva Steenkamp has given evidence at the athlete's murder trial.

The defence team called social worker Yvette van Schalkwyk to give evidence, who said she observed an emotionally devastated Pistorius last year who was grieving for his girlfriend and concerned for her parents.

"I saw a heartbroken man. He cried 80% of the time. He talked to me about what they planned for the future, his future with her," said van Schalkwyk, who told the court that she decided to give evidence at the trial because she was upset by suggestions reported in the media that Pistorius was feigning grief to sway the judge in his favour.

Gerrie Nel, the chief prosecutor, objected to van Schalkwyk's testimony, saying it was not relevant to the charges against Pistorius, but the judge allowed her to proceed.

The prosecution maintains Pistorius killed Ms Steenkamp intentionally by shooting her through the toilet door in the early hours of February 14, 2013 after a fight.

In allowing van Schalkwyk to testify about her February 15 meeting with Pistorius, Judge Thokozile Masipa noted that Nel had asked Pistorius during the runner's own testimony if he was trying to use his emotions to his advantage. Pistorius has cried and broken down sobbing on numerous occasions at the trial.

Nel said it was hardly surprising that Pistorius would be traumatised immediately after killing his girlfriend amid intense global interest in the case, and pushed van Schalkwyk to acknowledge that Pistorius never specifically said to her he was sorry he killed Ms Steenkamp.

That omission, according to Nel, supported his contention that Pistorius was feeling sorry for himself and was unwilling to take responsibility.

"It's all about him," the prosecutor said.

Van Schalkwyk's testimony was unexpected. She said she only contacted Pistorius' defence team two days earlier to say she was willing to testify.

Her evidence followed that of Professor Aina Christina Lundgren, an anaesthetist who testified at the start of the 28th day of the trial.

Ms Lundgren's evidence related to an autopsy report on Ms Steenkamp's body that said she still had food in her stomach after she was killed by Pistorius, leading prosecutors to challenge his story that the couple last ate around eight hours before he shot her.

An expert testifying for the prosecution said a person's stomach is normally empty of food six hours after eating and Ms Steenkamp ate much later on the night of the killing.

Prosecutors say Pistorius is lying about events on the fatal night and the couple were up arguing late into the night before Pistorius shot Steenkamp multiple times. Pistorius said that the couple ate dinner at around 7pm on the night she was killed, and they were in bed at around 10pm. Pistorius shot Ms Steenkamp soon after 3am.

Ms Lundgren, who described herself as a specialist anaesthetist, testified that there are a number of factors that could have delayed the digestion process in Ms Steenkamp to explain the food found in her stomach, including that she was a pre-menopausal woman and had been sleeping.

Ms Lundgren was presented by the defence to try and undermine the testimony of pathologist Professor Gert Saayman, who said it was his opinion that Ms Steenkamp ate much later than Pistorius says, possibly even at around 1am, when the runner claims they were in bed. Ms Lundgren said it was difficult to be exact about the rate of digestion and it was "speculative to attempt to estimate when she had last eaten."

Prosecutor Nel pointed to Professor Saayman's findings that he could even identify vegetable and cheese matter in Ms Steenkamp's stomach.

Pistorius' lawyer also said in a statement on Thursday that an offer to buy the villa where the Olympian killed Steenkamp had been accepted and the sale of the house was being processed. Pistorius is selling his home in the gated community in the South African capital Pretoria to help with his legal bills. His trial is now into its seventh week of testimony.

Lawyer Brian Webber said they would not identify who was buying the house or the amount it was being sold for until the sale was finalised.

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