Pistorius Trial: Day 5

By Rebecca Davis 7 March 2014

What day is it again? While it feels like a spiralling eternity, it's only the fifth day of the Pistorius murder trial. And technically, we should be a third of the way through the trial. That's time-wise, but almost certainly not content-wise. REBECCA DAVIS has taken up her seat on a hard court bench for the day's action.

9.30. Another soaking wet day in Pretoria, where we’re awaiting the last day of the first week of the so-called “trial of the decade”. (Or century, depending on how hyperbolic you’re feeling.) Yesterday we had some harrowing testimony from Dr Johan Stipp, the first witness to testify who actually saw Reeva at the end of her life. While his testimony initially seemed to favour the state’s case, some skilful questioning by the defence’s Barry Roux saw the picture shift somewhat by the end of the day. An hour can be a long time in a court case. Stay tuned.

11.06 Why, hello. We’re breaking for tea at the moment at court GD, after an interesting first session which saw Stipp complete his time on the stand – and leave relatively unscathed by either prosecution or defence, it must be said.

The defence’s Barry Roux kicked off the morning with a continuation of yesterday’s cross-examination. Stipp’s testimony is that after being woken by shots and walking on to his balcony to investigate, he saw lights on at Pistorius’s and heard screaming. Roux tried to convince him that he must have heard screams before he saw lights, in order for him to investigate, but Stipp said only that he had seen it all at once.

Roux spent a bit of time on the sequence and time of phonecalls made by Stipp to alert the authorities. It doesn’t say much for the reliability of South Africa’s emergency services that Stipp testified that when he dialled 10111, it sounded out of order. It is of critical importance that nobody passes this on to Alan Dershowitz (the US lawyer who was on CNN the other day calling South Africa a failed state.)

Roux also attempted again to cast doubt on the possibility that Stipp had heard a woman’s screams. He said that because Steenkamp was locked in the toilet with the windows closed, it was not possible for the sound to have travelled to Stipp – and thus he must have heard Pistorius.
Stipp remained adamant that he had heard the sound of a man and a woman’s voices “intermingled”.

When Gerrie Nel’s turn came for re-examination, he seemed to be in the mood to properly flex his muscles for the first time. He read to Stipp Pistorius’s version of events: “I fired shots at the toilet door and shouted to Reeva to phone the police. She did not respond and I moved backwards out of the bathroom, keeping my eyes on the bathroom entrance. Everything was pitch dark in the bedroom and I was still too scared to switch on a light. Reeva was not responding. When I reached the bed, I realised that Reeva was not in bed. That is when it dawned on me that it could have been Reeva who was in the toilet. I returned to the bathroom calling her name. I tried to open the toilet door but it was locked. I rushed back into the bedroom and opened the sliding door exiting on to the balcony and screamed for help.”

Why Nel relayed this so triumphantly was because nowhere in this statement, or in the bail hearing, was it mentioned that Pistorius screamed immediately after the shots. Stipp testified that he heard screams – which the defence maintains were Pistorius’s – moments after having been woken after what he thought were shots.

Nel also dealt with the suggestion that Stipp had mistaken the sound of a cricket bat for gunshots, asking Stipp if he thought it would be possible for anyone to wield a bat as rapidly as he had heard the noises follow each other. Stipp replied that he wouldn’t be able to do that, due to the “quick succession” of the sounds.

Finally, Nel reiterated to Stipp that Pistorius’s version of events is that everything was dark in the bedroom – the reason why he ostensibly didn’t know Steenkamp wasn’t in the bed – and he was too scared to turn on the light even after shooting. Initially. Stipp’s version is that he saw lights.
In the end, then, a strong-ish showing for the prosecution after all.

Next up: the long-awaited testimony from Pistorius’s ex-girlfriend, Samantha Taylor. Expect some damaging stuff: Samantha Taylor’s mother was very outspoken about her relief that her daughter was no longer dating Pistorius.

13h00 Phewee. Well, we said that the testimony from Oscar’s ex Sam Taylor might be fairly damaging, and indeed it may turn out to be: guns, anger and infidelity. A very young-looking Taylor, who dated Pistorius between 2011 and (according to her) November 2012, was just 17 when the two met. She testified that their relationship developed rapidly, and that she would spend four nights a week at his house in Pretoria.

Taylor gave testimony compounding the picture of Pistorius as being gun-dependent, saying that he kept his gun on him “all the time”, including when he went to visit friends. When he slept at night, he would place his firearm on his bedside table or next to his prosthetic legs on the floor.

Taylor told of the alleged incident in 2012 which has led to the state adding one extra charge of recklessly discharging a firearm in public to Pistorius’s rap sheet. She said she was returning from the Vaal River in a car driven by Pistorius’s friend Darren Fresco – he of the “Sorry, my gun fell out of my tracksuit pants” fame – with Pistorius as the front-seat passenger.

Fresco got pulled over for speeding, and the policemen asked the two men to step out of the car. Pistorius left his gun on the seat of the car. Spotting it, the policeman rebuked Pistorius for keeping it there. According to Taylor, the policeman picked up the gun and, while “cocking” it, spilled its bullets on the floor of the car. Taylor said Pistorius grew very angry and “shouted” at the policeman, saying he was not allowed to touch his gun.

When the car drove on, Taylor said that the two were angry with the police, and wanted to shoot a traffic light as a joke, as one does when mildly cheesed off. (Roux repeatedly tried to get Taylor to pick between Pistorius being angry and Pistorius joking around, but Taylor would only say that the two were angry with the police and thought it would be funny to “irritate” them.) Instead of the planned robot safari, Pistorius ended up simply firing his gun through the car’s sunroof. They didn’t discuss the incident after, Taylor said.

Nel ended his questioning with: “Why did your relationship end?”

“Because he cheated on me with Reeva Steenkamp,” Taylor replied.

Under cross-examination from Roux, Taylor expanded on this. When Pistorius took Steenkamp to the Sports Awards in November 2012 – the first time the two were photographed together in public, in an image you have probably now seen 10 0000 times – Taylor claims he had been with her in Sun City just the week before. They previously ended their relationship when Pistorius was training for the London Olympics, she said, when it was reported in the media that Pistorius had been on a date in New York with a Russian model.

Roux tried to take advantage of having Taylor on the stand to confirm various aspects of Pistorius’s life or character which might strengthen the defence’s case, but Taylor wasn’t in the mood to be helpful, despite her ostensibly timid ways. Was Oscar’s room very dark at night, Roux asked. With all the curtains closed it would be dark, Taylor said. Very dark, Roux pressed (clearly with an eye on Pistorius’s defence that it was too dark to see whether Steenkamp was in bed). “Dark,” was all Taylor would give.

Roux also asked Taylor to confirm that Pistorius was afraid of crime. She replied that he was clearly aware of crime, since he carried his gun everywhere, but she would not have considered him afraid. Roux asked her about an incident when Taylor and Pistorius were followed in a car to the entrance to Pistorius’s estate. This arguably backfired, however, when Taylor testified how Pistorius jumped out of his car to brandish a gun at the window. The car drove off.

Under re-examination, Nel asked Taylor if he had ever believed that they were under attack by an intruder. Taylor replied that on a few occasions he had woken her up in the night to ask if she had heard noises. But they had never woken in the morning only for Pistorius to tell Taylor that he had heard a noise in the night and had investigated, Taylor said.

Taylor also testified that she had heard the legendary Pistorius scream, and that it did not sound like a woman’s. It sounded, she said, like a man. Roux asked her if she had ever heard Pistorius scream when his life was threatened. She had not, she conceded, but said she had heard him scream more than once when he was “very angry”.

The trouble with Taylor as a witness is that she did not present herself as particularly solid. She could not recall any details as to where the sunroof-shooting incident took place, for instance. As a possibly still aggrieved ex, she has a motive for painting him in as negative a light as possible within the bounds of legally-required honesty. And every time she testified as to Pistorius’s cheating – which happened more than once during their relationship – she started to cry and court had to be adjourned.

Taylor’s mother is also on the witness list, and is likely to firmly corroborate her daughter’s account if she is called to the stand. On the other hand, Pistorius’s friend Darren Fresco is also on the list, and he may have information to give about the sunroof-shooting to paint it in a diffent light.

15.00 We’re finished for the week at the Pistorius murder trial. The post-lunch session was rather sleepier than that which preceded it. On the stand we had Pieter Baba, who works in security at Pistrorius’s Silverwoods estate.

Speaking through an interpreter, Baba gave a lengthy account of his duties and his evening routine. He also described the events of 14th February, and receiving calls from neighbours who had heard gunshots at Pistorius’s place. When Baba spoke to Pistorius, however, Pistorius told him that “Everything is okay,” but he suspected this not to be the truth because he could hear Pistorius crying.

When Roux grilled him as to whether he was sure Pistorius had said “Everything is okay'” as opposed to “I am okay,” Baba repeated several times that Pistorius had said “Everything is okay”.  Roux then nit-picked as to whether Pistorius had said “Everything is okay” or “Everything is fine”. Baba conceded that Pistorius had said “Everything is fine.” Got it.

That was the note on which we concluded, because Baba appeared to be taking strain. As a little treat for him to think about over the weekend, Roux promised him that on Monday we’ll be taking up the question of whether Pistorius REALLY said “Everything is fine”. Dear readers, hope you have a more relaxing weekend than Mr Baba. DM

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