South Africa

The State’s case against Oscar Pistorius

By Rebecca Davis 26 March 2014

On Tuesday, the state rested its case against Oscar Pistorius. It’s been a long few weeks, though it could have been a lot longer: we’ve only had 21 witnesses called, of the 107 in total on the state’s list. While we rest up in preparation for the opening of the defence’s case on Friday, REBECCA DAVIS presents a non-exhaustive summary of the witness testimony we’ve heard in the case so far.

Witness 1: Michelle Burger

Position: Pistorius neighbour, 177 metres away.

Testimony summary: Heard a woman’s screams and yells for help, a man’s yells for help, followed by four gunshots: Bang…bang bang bang.

Questions arising: Why would a man shout for help before he shoots his girlfriend? Claims to have heard screams continuing after shots fired; later pathologist evidence reveals that Steenkamp would almost certainly have been unable to scream.

Defence says: Burger couldn’t have heard clearly at such a distance; Burger mistook the sound of gunshots for a cricket bat attacking the door; Burger mistook a woman screaming for Oscar screaming.

Sideshow: Had pics of her face broadcast/published without permission.


Witness 2: Estelle van der Merwe

Position: Pistorius neighbour, 98 metres away.

Testimony summary: Heard voices talking shortly before 2am, and four “bang bang” explosion sounds at around 3am; after this she heard crying, which she believed was a woman but her husband said was Oscar.

Questions arising: Claimed to have heard two people in what could have been an argument before bangs, but admitted she couldn’t hear clearly enough to even make out the language.

Defence says: Sounds can’t carry far enough to be heard clearly at Van der Merwe’s house.


Witness 3: Charl Johnson

Position: Husband of Michelle Burger, Pistorius neighbour, 177 metres away.

Testimony summary: Woken by sound of screams, male and female voices yelling for help, a woman screaming, shots and more screams.

Questions arising: Called security after hearing “shots” at 3.19.30; Pistorius phoned estate manager Johan Stander almost exactly the same time, allegedly after breaking down door – did Johnson hear shots or the cricket bat?

Defence says: Johnson mistook cricket bat sounds for gunshots.

Sideshow: Had his cellphone number read out in court by Barry Roux, earning him abusive messages.


Witness 4: Kevin Lerena

Position: Pro-boxer, friend of Pistorius.

Testimony summary: Met Pistorius, Darren Fresco and another friend in Tasha’s. Fresco passed Pistorius a gun and informed him there was a bullet in the chamber. Gun went off narrowly missing Lerena’s foot. Pistorius asked Fresco to take the fall.

Questions arising: N/A

Defence says: (Later, in response to Fresco) Pistorius didn’t know the gun was loaded.

Sideshow: First witness in a South African criminal trial whose testimony was broadcast live.


Witness 5: Jason Loupis

Position: Franchisee of Tasha’s Melrose Arch

Testimony summary: Heard what he feared was gunshot but hoped was balloon popping from Pistorius’ table; approached group, Fresco told him his gun fell out of his tracksuit pants.

Questions arising: Fresco later testified he was wearing shorts.

Defence says: Pistorius apologised and offered to pay for damages (something Loupis didn’t recall).


Witness 6: Maria Loupis

Position: Franchisee of Tasha’s, wife of Jason.

Testimony summary: As per husband; rebuked Fresco for lack of safety; also pointed out how close by a child had been sitting to Pistorius when his gun went off.

Questions arising: N/A

Defence says: There was a wall between Pistorius and the child.


Witness 7: Johan Stipp

Position: Radiologist, Pistorius neighbour, lived 72 metres away

Testimony summary: Woken by 3 or 4 loud bangs, saw lights on at Pistorius’, and heard woman screaming, 3 or 4 more bangs, man’s voice crying for help. Went to scene to assist medically and found Pistorius trying to resuscitate Steenkamp. Pistorius told him “I shot her, I thought it was a burglar”, and prayed to God to save her.

Questions arising: Stipp heard what he thought were gunshots, then called security at 3.17am, then heard what he thought were further shots. Pistorius called estate manager Stander at 3.19am allegedly after bashing door down. This timeframe would leave little time for everything to make sense.

Defence says: The timeline means that any screaming Stipp heard after the first set of shots would have to have been Pistorius’, because Stipp agreed that after bullet struck her head, Steenkamp would have been unable to scream. Also say screams from Steenkamp could not have travelled through locked toilet to Stipp’s house.


Witness 8: Sam Taylor

Position: Pistorius’ ex-girlfriend

Testimony summary: Pistorius carried a gun at all times. Pistorius was in a car with Fresco and Taylor in 2012 on way back from Vaal. The car was stopped for speeding; a policeman rebuked Pistorius for careless gun-handling; when they set off, Pistorius fired a gun through car’s sunroof. Claims Pistorius cheated on her with Steenkamp. Said she had heard Pistorius scream and did not sound like a woman; also said on certain occasions he had believed he heard an intruder during the night, and woke her each time.

Questions arising: Was unable to pinpoint location of shooting incident with any precision.

Defence says: She never heard Pistorius scream when his life was in danger.

Sideshow: Multiple adjournments for crying when testifying about infidelity.


Witness 9: Pieter Baba

Position: Security guard, Pistorius’ estate.

Testimony summary: Received calls from neighbours who had heard bangs from Pistorius. Says he called Pistorius and Pistorius said “Everything is okay”, but he could hear Pistorius crying. Also pointed out that Pistorius had full alarm system and could have pressed panic button if felt himself under threat.

Questions arising: Pistorius’s phone records show that Pistorius phoned security first.

Defence says: Pistorius said “I am okay”, not “everything is okay”.


Witness 10: Gert Saayman

Position: State pathologist.

Testimony summary: This was the stuff that Oscar puked throughout. Pistorius used particularly damaging Black Talon ammunition, expanding on contact with moist tissue. Shots to right hip and arm could have killed Steenkamp on their own. Shot to hip would have shattered her hipbone, causing her to collapse. Steenkamp would have been unlikely to be able to scream after bullet hit head, but would be “abnormal” not to scream after other shots. Steenkamp had eaten a small amount of food at 1am.

Questions arising: Pistorius says they went to bed around 10pm; why did she eat at 1?

Defence says: Forensic pathology is inexact on the time of eating before death.

Sideshow: Judge Masipa acceded to a request from Saayman not to have his graphic testimony broadcast. The judge also briefly instituted a rule against courtroom tweeting.


Witness 11: Darren Fresco

Position: Pistorius’ ex-friend.

Testimony summary: Pistorius fired a shot out of Fresco’s sunroof after day on the Vaal with Sam Taylor. Fresco passed Pistorius a gun at Tasha’s and told him it had a bullet in its chambers; it went off while Pistorius was handling it and Pistorius asked Fresco to take the blame.

Questions arising: Fresco’s initial statement contained no mention of being asked to take blame; Fresco could remember nothing of the evening after the sunroof shooting incident; Fresco claimed to have taken a photo of the speedometer while Pistorius was speeding when in fact the photo was taken while Fresco himself was speeding.

Defence says: Pistorius didn’t hear Fresco tell him the gun was loaded.


Witness 12: Johannes Vermeulen

Position: State forensic analyst.

Testimony summary: Toilet door was brought in and Vermeulen demonstrated angle at which a cricket bat was most likely swung at it, which produced marks consistent with Pistorius not having his prosthetic limbs on. Evidence consistent with shots being fired through door before door was broken down by cricket bat.

Questions arising: Door sustained new marks while in police custody; chips from the door were missing; police failed to investigate mark which defence claimed was caused by Pistorius trying to kick in door with prosthesis.

Defence says: Pistorius had his legs on while using the bat, and produced a higher mark on the door; Pistorius would have been unable to maintain necessary balance to swing bat on his stumps.


Witness 13: Schoombie van Rensburg

Position: Former commander of Boschkop police station.

Testimony summary: First policeman on the scene; Steenkamp dead before arrival, Pistorius in tears. Showed detailed photos of Pistorius house and bloodstained bathroom, location of guns, phones etc. Photos of Pistorius topless, with shorts, legs and arms smeared with blood. One of Pistorius’s watches went missing while police worked. Also found ballistics expert handling gun without gloves.

Questions arising: Was Hilton Botha allowed to blunder around crime scene unchaperoned?

Defence says: Van Rensburg was called to the witness stand to prevent need to call Hilton Botha; Two watches, not one, went missing.


Witness 14: Sean Rens

Position: Firearms trainer

Testimony summary: Pistorius had ordered a Smith & Wesson 500 “handcannon” and other powerful guns before Steenkamp’s shooting, subsequently cancelled; Pistorius had successfully passed a written test during which he demonstrated his awareness of lawful gun use and permissible force against intruders.

Questions arising: Rens told Roux Black Talon ammo was “less lethal”, but presumably only in the sense that they’re unlikely to go through one person and hit another.

Defence says: There’s no link between firearm collecting and reckless gun use.


Witness 15: Bennie van Staden

Position: Police crime scene photographer.

Testimony summary: Showed album after album of crime scene photos.

Questions arising: Blood smatters photographed above Pistorius’ bed never dealt with; Damage to Pistorius’ bedroom main door never dealt with. Van Staden claims he was operating alone, but metadata from photos seem to show another police photographer working at same time.

Defence says: Pistorius says van Staden took more photos of him than were in the album; things were moved around on the scene; suggestion Van Staden was told by Vermeulen to only include photos which backed up state’s version of Pistorius on stumps.


Witness 16: Christian Mangena

Position: Police ballistics expert.

Testimony summary: Used steel rod and laser to work out trajectory of how and where bullets went through door. Based on shots analysis, Steenkamp was standing facing door when first shot struck hip, fell into semi-seated position on magazine rack; crossed her hands above her head; shot in the head; slumped next to toilet. Most likely angle of shots suggested Pistorius not wearing prosthetics.

Questions arising: Why did state claim at bail hearing that Pistorius was wearing his prosthetics, and now say he wasn’t?

Defence says: Pistorius fired ‘double-tap’ – pair of shots in rapid succession. (Mangena said in that case bullet holes and wounds to Steenkamp’s body would be closer together.)


Witness 17: Ian van der Nest

Position: Police blood spatter expert.

Testimony summary: Steenkamp’s death was caused by gunshots, not bludgeoning by cricket bat; hair and blood in toilet bowl mean Steenkamp’s head wound must have been sustained around toilet; blood trail consistent with Steenkamp being lifted up and carried downstairs.

Questions arising: N/A

Defence says: Not much.


Witness 18: Mike Sales

Position: Police computer expert.

Testimony summary: Downloaded browsing history from two iPads; last browsing done at around 9:19pm; user browsed expensive car websites.

Questions arising: iPad had been briefly used to surf porn website on the evening in question, but state did not make formal mention of this aspect.

Defence says: You can’t determine with any certainty who was using the iPads at any time.


Witness 19: Annette Stipp

Position: Pistorius neighbor, lived 72 metres away, wife of Johan Stipp

Testimony summary: Woke up coughing, saw it was 03.02 (but clock 3 or 4 mins fast), heard three loud bangs, heard “terrified” woman screaming, saw lights on in Pistorius’ house. Returned inside, saw it was 03.17 on fast clock, heard three more bangs. Heard man’s voice screaming before second set of bangs.

Questions arising: Stipp believes she heard 6 gunshots, but we know only 4 were fired. She thinks maybe she missed hearing one bang in second set of shots, but this doesn’t explain what first set was.

Defence says: Impossible for Stipp to have seen lights in Pistorius’ toilet, because it was broken; second volley of shots must have been cricket bat.


Witness 20: Francois Moller

Position: Police phone expert

Testimony summary: Downloaded data on Pistorius’ two phones and Steenkamp’s phones. Over 1,700 WhatsApp messages swapped by the two. One message told Steenkamp not to tell anyone about Tasha’s incident because “Darren told everyone it was his fault”. In others Steenkamp complained of Pistorius being jealous, controlling and critical, and wrote “I am scared of u sometimes”. Pistorius’s phone records show he first called estate manager Johan Stander, then ambulance, then estate security, then to best friend Justin Divaris, then brother Carl.

Questions arising: Pistorius’ phone connected to the internet at 01.48, but witness conceded under defence questioning that this could be an automatic update.

Defence says: Moller cherry-picked just four out of thousands of messages to show bad relationship; countless others show loving, warm relationship with numerous terms of endearment.


Witness 21: Adriaan Maritz

Position: Warrant officer in Boschkop crime information office

Testimony summary: Crime at Silverwoods estate was relatively low, with 8 crimes between 2011 and 2013, of which only one was a house robbery and only one a shooting (Steenkamp’s).

Questions arising: Pistorius was not on the Boschkop system, despite having been arrested after a 2009 assault charge.

Defence says: Pistorius was the victim of crimes on numerous occasions, even though he never opened any cases at the Boschkop station.


Final witness: Johannes Vermeulen (return)

Position: State forensics expert

Testimony summary: He’d been called back by the defence to see whether a high mark on the toilet door could have been caused by Pistorius swinging a cricket bat while wearing his prosthetics, but said he still considered it unlikely.

Questions arising: Vermeulen said he’d never tried to match the top mark on the door with a cricket bat, but defence brought out photos showing him doing just that.

Defence says: Vermeulen didn’t countenance any evidence or theories that would run against the state’s case. DM

Photo: Barry Roux (L) sits with his client, Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius, at the end of the trial for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, March 17, 2014. Pistorius is on trial for murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp at his suburban Pretoria home on Valentine’s Day last year. He says he mistook her for an intruder. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko.


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