Oscar Pistorius trial: weighin

Oscar Pistorius trial: weighing up the evidence so far

Three weeks into the Oscar Pistorius trial, we look at how the evidence has stacked up against the athlete so far.

Oscar Pistorius trial: weighin


The arguments for and against Oscar Pistorius’ innocence or guilt become more numerous and contradictory with each passing day of testimony. It has now been three weeks since the start of the case in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, yet it’s still possible to make convincing arguments for both defence and prosecution regarding whether the six-time Paralympic gold medallist meant to kill Reeva Steenkamp when he fired four shots through the bathroom door.

The evidence of ballistics expert Captain Chris Mangena was illuminating for several reasons. The height that the bullets passed through the door reveal that Pistorius was not wearing his prosthetic legs, which scans with the athlete’s version of events including his argument that he felt particularly vulnerable because he was on his stumps.

However, Mangena’s evidence contradicted Pistorius’ claim that all four shots were fired in quick succession, according to his description of how Steenkamp fell based on her wounds. Mangena believed her to be standing behind the door when the first shot was fired, which struck her in the hip, causing her to fall backwards onto a magazine rack while raising her hands in front of her head in a defensive position. It was at this point that three more shots were fired, one of which passed through Steenkamp’s hand and lodged in her head. Another bullet missed entirely and hit the wall behind her, while another lodged in her arm.

This description contradicts Pistorius’ argument that all four shots were fired in quick succession because there must have been a pause between bullets one and two for there to be time for Steenkamp to fall backwards into a sitting position so that her head was then at the same height as where her hip had previously been. Mangena’s description also corresponds with the testimony of neighbour Michelle Burger that the shots were interspersed with “blood-curdling screams” that died out as the final shot was fired.

The fact that there is clear evidence suggesting there was a pause between the first and second shots weighs heavily in favour of the prosecution because Steenkamp must surely have made some noise when shot in the hip, which begs the question, why did Pistorius then fire three more shots? The pathologist Professor Gert Saayman said that Steenkamp would almost certainly have screamed out after the first shot yet Pistorius kept firing. It could also scan with the prosecution’s belief that the argument might have begun in the bedroom, where the first shot may have been fired. The discovery of a cartridge by the bed has yet to be explained, although this may raise further questions about the police’s treatment of the crime scene.

Testimony about Pistorius’ hot temper and paranoia, along with his love of firearms and history of discharging them in public, also appears to weigh heavily against the athlete. A few months before the night of Steenkamp’s death Pistorius tweeted about drawing his gun and going into “full combat recon mode” when he heard a noise he thought was an intruder, which actually turned out to be emanating from his washing machine. He also allegedly fired a revolver through the roof of a friend’s car following an altercation with a police officer and discharged a firearm in a busy restaurant although though the latter incident was supposedly an accident. Pistorius made no secret of his ‘big love’ for firearms and had recently ordered another seven weapons including a shotgun, although this order was cancelled soon after the Valentine’s day shooting of Steenkamp.