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Saturday 23 August 2014

Pistorius 'prayed over girlfriend'

Published 06/03/2014 | 08:22

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Oscar Pistorius arrives at the court for the start of the fourth day of his trial in Pretoria
Barry Roux, the lawyer defending Oscar Pistorius, has been grilling prosecution witnesses (AP)

As his girlfriend lay dying, a weeping, praying Oscar Pistorius knelt at her side and struggled in vain to help her breathe by holding two fingers in her clenched mouth, a witness told a South African court.

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" 'I shot her. I thought she was a burglar. I shot her,' '' radiologist Johan Stipp recalled Pistorius saying.

A few minutes later, Mr Stipp said, Pistorius went upstairs - the area where he had shot Reeva Steenkamp - and then returned.

At that point, Mr Stipp said he was concerned that the gun used in the shooting had not been recovered and that a distraught Pistorius was going to harm himself. The testimony did not address what Pistorius did when he went upstairs.

The testimony in a provincial court was the first detailed, public description of the immediate aftermath of the shooting of Ms Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model, by the Paralympic champion in the pre-dawn hours of February 14 - Valentine's Day - last year.

At his bail hearing last year, Pistorius said in a statement read by his lawyer Barry Roux that, after he realised he had shot Ms Steenkamp, he pulled on his prosthetic legs and tried to kick down the toilet door before finally giving up and bashing it in with a cricket bat.

Inside, he said he found Ms Steenkamp, slumped over but still alive. He said he lifted her bloodied body and carried her downstairs to seek medical help.

"It was obvious that she was mortally wounded," Mr Stipp said as he described what he saw at Pistorius' villa. "At the bottom of the stairs ... there was a lady lying on her back on the floor."

As a radiologist, Mr Stipp is a medical doctor with years of study, and he said he used his expertise to try to save her.

"I tried to assist her," Mr Stipp said. "I tried to open an airway."

Sitting on a courtroom bench, Mr Pistorius bent forward and put his hand over his face, then moved them to cover both ears, as Mr Stipp spoke. He stayed that way for a while, even when one of his lawyers reached back and, in a gesture of reassurance, touched him on the head.

"I went near her and as I bent down, I also noticed a man on the left kneeling by her side," Mr Stipp said under questioning by prosecutor Gerrie Nel. "He had his left hand on her right groin, and his right hand, the second and third fingers in her mouth."

Mr Stipp, who said he didn't know that man was Pistorius until later, said he tried to help but Ms Steenkamp showed no signs of life. Mr Stipp said he noticed a wound in her right thigh, in her upper arm and in the right side of the head, and there was brain tissue around the skull.

Pistorius is charged with shooting Ms Steenkamp three times out of four shots through a toilet door in his home. Prosecutors said the athlete intentionally killed Ms Steenkamp after an argument, but Pistorius says it was a mistake and he thought she was an intruder.

"She had no pulse in the neck, she had no peripheral pulse. She had no breathing movements that she made," Ms Stipp said.

"Oscar was crying all the time," he said. "He was praying to God, 'Please let her live.'"

"Oscar said he would dedicate 'his life and her life to God' if she would live, according to Mr Stipp.

Pistorius, who ran at the 2012 Olympics on his prosthetic legs and who was known as the Blade Runner, is charged with premeditated murder.

Mr Roux, Pistorius' lead defence lawyer started the fourth day of the trial by cross-examining another neighbour and questioning whether the man heard a woman screaming and then gunshots on the night Steenkamp died.

The neighbour, Charl Johnson, said he also owned a gun, a 9mm pistol, and knew what gunfire sounded like.

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

Mr Roux says the banging sounds were actually Mr Pistorius hitting a toilet door with a cricket bat and the screaming was the distressed athlete calling for help - and there were no sounds from Ms Steenkamp who had been shot in the head.

The sequence of events soon after 3 am 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 that he had thought Ms Steenkamp was in bed when he fired through the locked toilet door.

Press Association

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