Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Pistorius retches during graphic court testimony

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PRETORIA, South Africa -- Oscar Pistorius bent over in his seat and retched violently at his murder trial Monday as a pathologist graphically detailed the wounds that killed the double-amputee Olympic runner's girlfriend.

It was by all appearances a harrowing day for Pistorius, who is accused of the premeditated murder of Reeva Steenkamp, 29, in the early hours of Valentine's Day last year. Earlier, during a court break, he was hunched over and deeply upset, with his sister, Aimee, and brother, Carl, hugging him.

Steenkamp was staying at the athlete's house on the night of the killing. Prosecutors allege he shot her intentionally after she locked herself in a toilet off the bathroom, but he contends he mistook her for a burglar and killed her accidentally. Pistorius fired the four shots that killed her.

Pistorius retched loudly as details of the post-mortem examination were read out in court during the morning and afternoon. At one point, a court official moved the microphone near his seat in the dock so the sounds would be less audible. His retching was loudest as Steenkamp's head injuries were detailed. Barry Roux, Pistorius' attorney, told the court the athlete was extremely upset and his emotional state would not improve as the evidence continued to be presented.

Pathologist Gert Saayman described a massive head wound caused when a bullet hit Steenkamp in the head and travelled under her skin before penetrating her skull. The bullet then split in two, he said, with one fragment exiting the body. He said another bullet entered her upper right arm, shattering the bone and then exiting the body. A third bullet entered near her right hip, he said. The pathologist also testified she had a small wound between the fingers of one hand and a fourth bullet was found, along with tissue and blood, in the black sleeveless vest she had been wearing.

Saayman said the bullets were of a type referred to as Black Talon-style ammunition, which is designed to flatten out and expand on contact. He said the bullets were specifically designed to cause the maximum possible damage to the target. He showed the court a photograph with the remains of a jagged, flattened bullet near the base of Steenkamp's skull.

Judge Thokozile Masipa banned the live broadcast, tweeting or blogging of Saayman's testimony after a motion from the prosecution -- supported by the defence -- arguing the evidence was so graphic it would harm the Steenkamp family and other people listening, potentially including children. The ruling banning tweeting from the courtroom was controversial, with some legal and media experts tweeting it was out of line with previous South African trials.

-- Los Angeles Times

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 11, 2014 A8

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