Africa

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Witness feared Pistorius might kill himself after shooting girlfriend

Published 06/03/2014|11:50

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Oscar Pistorius during the fourth day of his trial for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp

One of the first people on the scene after Oscar Pistorius shot girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp told a court on Thursday he feared the Olympic and Paralympic star, now on trial for murder, might kill himself with the same gun.

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Testifying on the fourth day of the trial, neighbour Johan Stipp said he entered the athlete's home, minutes after hearing screams and shots, to find the distraught South African sprinter kneeling over the lifeless body of a woman.

"I shot her. I thought she was a burglar and I shot her," Stipp quoted the 27-year-old Pistorius as saying.

Stipp, a doctor, went on to describe his futile attempts to revive Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model and law graduate who had been dating Pistorius for a few months.

She died after being hit by three rounds, including one to the head, out of four fired by Pistorius through the locked door of an upstairs toilet. He denies murder, arguing that he made a tragic mistake after mistaking her for an intruder on Valentine's Day last year.

As Stipp checked Steenkamp for signs of life, Pistorius was begging him to save her life, Stipp told the court.

"Oscar was crying all the time. He prayed to God: 'Please let her live, she must not die,'" he said.

At one point when Pistorius left Steenkamp, Stipp and housing complex manager Johan Stander to go upstairs, Stipp thought the athlete might be about to kill himself.

"I noticed that Oscar was going upstairs and I asked Mr. Stander if he knew where the gun was because it was obvious that Oscar was emotionally very, very upset," he said.

"I didn't know the situation in the house so I thought maybe he was going to hurt himself."

SLUMPED IN THE DOCK

During Stipp's graphic testimony, including his assessment that Steenkamp was "mortally wounded", Pistorius sat slumped in the dock, his head bowed and his hands covering his ears.

Pistorius had his lower legs amputated as a baby but went on to achieve international fame as the "fastest man on no legs", running on carbon-fibre prosthetic limbs.

Already one of the best-known Paralympic athletes, he ascended to the pantheon of track greats at the 2012 London Olympics when he reached the 400 metres semi-final, competing against able-bodied athletes.

With rugged good looks and an easy smile, he was a sponsors' dream, but since he shot Steenkamp on Valentine's Day last year a different side to his carefully-groomed media persona has emerged.

On Wednesday, the court heard how Pistorius had accidentally fired a pistol under the table in a packed restaurant - right next to a child - and then asked a friend to take the blame.

The prosecution has used the incident to portray an image of Pistorius as a gun-obsessed hothead. If found guilty of intentional murder, Pistorius is likely to spend at least 25 years behind bars.

Other witnesses have testified to hearing a woman's terrified screams in the house before and during the volley of shots.

Oscar Pistorius' lead defence lawyer grilled one of the neighbours of the star athlete today, questioning the man over how many gunshots he thought he heard on the night of Reeva Steenkamp's death.

Lawyer Barry Roux said Charl Johnson's testimony and statements to police were manipulated to match those of his wife, who testified on the opening day, and were an attempt to "incriminate the accused".

"I can confidently say I heard gunshots," Mr Johnson insisted on cross-examination by Mr Roux on the fourth day of Pistorius' murder trial. Later, Mr Johnson said: "I'm convinced that I heard a lady's voice."

Mr Roux argues that prosecution witnesses Mr Johnson and his wife are mistaken over what they heard on the night Pistorius killed his girlfriend by firing four times through a toilet door.

Mr Roux says the banging sounds were actually Pistorius hitting a toilet door with a bat and the screaming was the distressed athlete calling for help - and there were no sounds from Ms Steenkamp. Pistorius says he shot her by mistake.

Mr Johnson said he "disputed" some of what Mr Roux was saying and described in more detail what he heard that night. The Johnsons live 177 metres from the villa where Ms Steenkamp died.

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"The fear ... in the lady person's calls contrasted with a very monotone male voice," Mr Johnson testified. "The man almost sounded embarrassed to be calling for help."

Mr Roux did get Mr Johnson to concede right at the end of the court session that he never heard what he thought was the woman's voice and the man's voice at the same time. Mr Roux wants to show that it was the same person - Pistorius - screaming.

The sequence of events soon after 3am on the morning of February 14 last year is a critical aspect of the case. Prosecutors say there was a loud argument between Pistorius and Ms Steenkamp before the shooting. Pistorius says there was no argument and he killed the 29-year-old model, by accident thinking she was an intruder in his home.

Mr Roux, who was at times interrupted by the judge to clarify some of his questions, also attempted to throw doubt on the validity of Mr Johnson's testimony and that of his wife Burger. Mr Roux said their versions were vague and different in statements to police and in notes they made in the weeks after the killing. Then, the couple's stories and recollection of the events of that night became suspiciously similar later, Mr Roux said.

"Your intention is a design to sideline and incriminate the accused," Mr Roux said to Mr Johnson. "It's a design on your side to incriminate, and it's unfortunate."

Mr Johnson, who appeared stronger and surer today than he was Wednesday, replied: "I have no reason to design an incriminating statement."

Pistorius, a double-amputee runner who competed at the 2012 Olympics, is charged with murder with premeditation after shooting Ms Steenkamp. Dressed in a dark suit, Pistorius arrived earlier than usual for proceedings and sat alone and staring ahead before the judge arrived.

Reuters

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