Sunday 17 November 2019

Blade-runner tragedy may have more twists

Police have the weapon, the shooter and CCTV footage, but questions remain over what happened on fatal night

Fiona Forde in South Africa

It was shortly after 3am on February 14 when Oscar Pistorius called his close female friend and asked her to come to his home immediately. He was frantic. Something had gone horribly wrong. There had been a shooting.

Also a resident of the upmarket SilverWoods housing estate, where she lives with her parents, the 20-something dressed and made her way there as quickly as she could. As she opened the front door of number 286, at exactly 3.20am on Valentine's morning, she saw Pistorius carry his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp down the stairs, her body drenched in blood.

Pistorius placed his girlfriend's body on the floor and between him and the woman (who cannot be named for legal reasons) they tried to stop the profuse bleeding. But they couldn't.

The woman, a lawyer, and Pistorius did everything they could. But by then the 29- year-old was pumping blood and her slender body was limp as all life continued to drain from it. When the paramedics arrived a short while later, Pistorius and the woman stepped aside. Steenkamp was pronounced dead shortly after that.

The woman then asked her father to call for an ambulance. It is not clear if the neighbours, who alerted the security guards and police to the gunshots they heard just after 3am, had also called for an ambulance to come.

Pistorius was in a state of delirium, panic and shock as the woman tried to console him. It was all a mistake, he continued to tell her. He hadn't meant to do it. He thought Steenkamp was an intruder. That's why he shot her. He was crying. He was shaking. He was beyond consolation.

The police arrived. Steenkamp was dead. Pistorius's life was about to change forever. And number 286, until then the plush home of the well-loved and world-famous double-amputee athlete, was turned into a crime scene.

What is recounted above is what the woman relayed to the police on the morning of February 14 in a sworn statement. She joined the line-up of witnesses, along with neighbours who live next to and near number 286, members of the security company that operate SilverWoods gated housing estate and the paramedics who attended to Steenkamp at Pistorius's home.

Unlike the others, perhaps, the woman who was first on the scene is on Pistorius's side and appears to believe him. And, for now, she is the star witness for the defence.

The neighbours have already recounted to the police their recollection of the shouting and screaming they heard coming from 286 on February 13 and in the early hours of the 14th, which, on a first reading, makes a mockery of the blade-runner's claims that he mistook his girlfriend for an intruder and shot her in a tragic case of self-defence.

The security guards who were called to the house on the evening of the 13th to tell the occupant and his guest that neighbours were concerned about the commotion that was going on inside will also weaken Pistorius's claims that he shot Steenkamp by mistake in the middle of the night when he thought someone was trying to enter his fortified house.

Furthermore, the security company that controls SilverWoods has already given the police the CCTV footage that captured Steenkamp's time of arrival. She drove through the heavily guarded gates of SilverWoods on February 13 and not in the early hours of the 14th. Her remains were removed a day later.

Is there more to the Pistorius-Steenkamp tragedy than has met the public eye so far?

Apparently not. It has been noted from records and from statements taken from her family that the witness was awoken in the night by a call from Pistorius in what has turned out to be a desperate plea for help.

The only occupants of 286 throughout the night of the 13th and until the woman's arrival at 3.20am on the 14th were Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp.

The state has charged him with premeditated murder, a charge that he has denied, in the strongest possible terms, in a statement he made via his family (and, oddly, not through his legal team) shortly after the court adjourned on Friday afternoon.

The state appears confident and seems to be sitting on strong evidence: a dead body; the weapon; the man who fired the shots; the neighbours; the security company; the CCTV footage.

There is a twist, however.

In stating – to the woman friend and to the police – that he thought Steenkamp was an intruder, Pistorius is not necessarily suggesting or implying that his girlfriend did not arrive at his home on the 13th and spend the night there. He has told police that he was awoken during the night by a noise that appeared to be emanating from the bathroom. He reached out for his 9mm pistol that he keeps by his bed and a short while later fired the fatal shots through the bathroom door.

What is not clear is whether or not he told the police that in his state of slumber, he forgot that his girlfriend had stayed the night at his home and that her movements in the house during the night were mistaken for those of an intruder and regrettably triggered the fatal scene that followed. This still raises questions, however.

Her body took four bullets – some if not all of them through the bathroom door. He says he reached for his pistol and before firing the first shot, shouted out to the "intruder" that he was about to shoot. If that is the case, would Steenkamp not have shouted back words to the effect: "It's OK. It's just me, Reeva. I got up to use the bathroom."Perhaps she didn't hear him make the warning call.

Even still, surely she would have screamed out after the first shot was fired, appealing to him to stop, assuring him she wasn't the intruding threat he thought she may have been.

Or perhaps it did not happen like that at all. Perhaps it was a lovers' quarrel in the middle of the night that went horribly wrong.

The woman who arrived on the scene summoned by the phone call does not believe so. Apparently, she is very much on his side.

Irish Independent

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