After a two-week adjournment, Oscar Pistorius was back in the North Gauteng High Court on Monday. Neighbours on the scene that night described a man who was traumatised and who did all he could to save his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. For the athlete accused of murder, this was one of the better days in court. By GREG NICOLSON.
Early in the morning of 14 February 2012, Carice Stander’s dogs grew restless as several screams pierced the silence of the
Silver Woods Country Estate where she lived with her father Johan. Stander’s (who has since married and is now a Viljoen) heart raced and she was afraid.
At first she said she had tried to calm her dogs and go back to sleep but lay in bed worrying about what might have happened. It had been a man’s scream she had heard but she wondered, “Where’s the lady?”
At 3:18 her father had received a phone call. “Please, please, please come to my house. I shot Reeva. I thought she was an intruder. Please, please, please come quick.”
It was their neighbour, Oscar Pistorius.
Stander and his daughter drove her silver Mini Cooper to the athlete’s house, 212 metres away and found Pistorius descending the stairs carrying Steenkamp in his arms.
Stander knew Pistorius; he’d looked after his dogs when the athlete was travelling. They were friends to the point that they’d had coffee and Stander had offered advice to the athlete, but they never shared dinner or met at a braai.
Stander entered the house behind his daughter. “Carice, Carice, please can we just put the body in the car and get her to hospital,” Pistorius begged.
“He just wanted to get her to hospital,” Carice told the court. She repeatedly asked Pistorius to put Reeva down so they could assess her injuries before trying to stop the bleeding using homemade tourniquets.
That night, Stander told the court, he saw a screaming, praying, weeping Pistorius. “It’s not something I would like to experience again, my lady. He was torn apart… broken… desperate… pleading. It’s difficult really to describe. And his commitment to save the young lady’s life – when he put his finger in her mouth he tried to keep the airway open for her to breath. How he begged her to stay with him. How he begged god to keep her alive.”
Stander spoke with long pauses and had to be asked by Judge Thokozile Mapisa to speak up. “I saw the truth that morning. I saw it, and I feel it,” he told the court, emotionally.
Stander’s truth is that it must have been an accident, that no one so distraught could have intentionally killed his girlfriend. While trying to save Steenkamp’s life, Viljoen spoke briefly to Oscar about what happened. “I thought she was an intruder,” was all Pistorius had said, his argument throughout the case.
“We just tried our very best,” he said of their efforts to save the 29-year-old model’s life.
In court on Monday the defence team was trying to show Oscar’s commitment to this argument. From that night, he had implied that killing Steenkamp had been a tragic accident. Pistorius was shocked, desperate, shattered and focused solely on saving his girlfriend’s life. He briefly went upstairs (Stander says it was under a minute; others have suggested it could have been longer) to get Steenkamp’s handbag, which might have had her ID for paramedics. Viljoen knew the gun was upstairs and shouted for him to come back down, worried he might commit suicide.
Before the trial adjourned in April, wide-ranging forensic evidence from defence witness Roger Dixon was torn to shreds. Pistorius’s time on the stand was marred by his avoiding questions, changing defences, arguing with the prosecutor and many, many tears. The athlete’s team clawed back some of that ground on Monday with witnesses confirming his emotional state on the night and that a man’s scream had been heard rather than a woman’s.
But prosecutor Gerrie Nel cast doubt on some of Stander’s evidence. While the neighbour recited a number of crimes committed in the area, including intruders using a ladder to enter a house, Nel said they occurred before the times he had recalled. Stander served on the complex’s estate management committee and testified about how he had helped improve security. He agreed Silver Woods was a safe place to live in January 2013 – “but you can never be sure”. Yet Stander’s own daughter went to sleep with her balcony door open on the night of 13 February 2012.
Nel also questioned Stander’s friendship with the accused, especially after the neighbour said Pistorius had told him he accidentally shot Steenkamp, which Stander later said was not what the athlete told him, rather this is what he inferred.
Stander said they had never discussed the shooting. Before police took Pistorius away that morning, he hugged Stander and said, “Thank you very much.” The next time they spoke was at a memorial for Steenkamp where Stander had asked him for a coffee. Stander acknowledged that he was a regular newspaper reader and that he knew what had happened during the trial.
The court adjourned early on Monday as the defence had no further witnesses available to testify. It resumes today with this expected to be the final leg of the marathon legal battle over Pistorius’s fate. DM
Photo: South African Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius reacts in the dock at the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, 05 May 2014. EPA/THOBILE MATHONSI / POOL
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