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Thu Apr 17, 2014 11:12am EDT

Judge Thokozile Masipa granted the state’s request for a postponement to avoid conflicts with other cases. Prosecutor Gerrie Nel – nicknamed “The Pitbull” for his aggressive style – tore into defense witness Roger Dixon, questioning his credibility and expertise.

Pistorius, 27, is on trial for the murder of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, whom he shot dead with four rounds from a 9mm pistol on Valentine’s Day last year in his plush Pretoria house.

The track star insists he killed the 29-year-old law graduate and model after mistaking her for an intruder hiding in the toilet.

Dixon, a forensic geologist and former police officer, testified that Steenkamp was standing at an angle to the door with her arm out in front of her, suggesting she was reaching for the handle, when Pistorius shot her dead.

The testimony challenged the version of the state, which has sought to portray Pistorius as a gun-obsessed hot-head who murdered Steenkamp after an argument.

But Nel heaped scorn on Dixon’s expertise, prompting Masipa to tell the advocate to restrain himself.

When the geologist said on Wednesday he tested the sound of a cricket bat hitting a wooden door to see if it could be confused with the sound of a gunshot, Nel asked:

“Do you need to be an expert to do that? What expert skills did you use, wielding a bat? So your expertise was wielding a bat?”

At another point, Dixon confessed to being a “layman” with no professional experience in blood spatter analysis, forensic pathology or ballistics.

After asking Dixon for another of his findings, Nel added: “I use the word ‘finding’ loosely”.

The defense has sought to prove that some of Pistorius’ neighbors mistook the sound of the track star breaking down the door with a bat for that of a gunshot. Pistorius says he broke the door in a frantic effort to save Steenkamp after realizing he had shot her.

The trial, which has garnered massive domestic and international attention, is due to resume on May 5, two days before South Africa goes to the polls for a national election.

Defense advocate Barry Roux is expected to call his next witness once the trial resumes.

Before the shooting, Pistorius was one of the most revered figures in sport, a man who had his lower legs amputated as a child but who reached the semi-finals of the 400m at the London Olympics in 2012 running on carbon-fiber prosthetic ‘blades’.

(Writing by Nomatter Ndebele; Editing by David Dolan and Ed Cropley)

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Tue Apr 15, 2014 3:52pm EDT

(Reuters) – The prosecutor in the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius ended his five-day cross-examination of the double amputee track athlete on Tuesday with a stark summary of how he shot his girlfriend, insisting he killed her deliberately after an argument.

“You fired four shots through the door whilst knowing that she was standing behind the door,” said prosecutor Gerrie Nel, known in South Africa as “The Pitbull” for his hectoring style of questioning.

“She was locked into the bathroom and you armed yourself with the sole purpose of shooting and killing her.”

“That is not true,” said 27-year-old Pistorius, who faces life in prison if convicted of murder.

Pistorius has broken down in tears on many occasions during the questioning, and at one point retched into a bucket on the witness stand after being shown grisly pictures of Reeva Steenkamp after the shooting on Valentine’s Day last year.

He insists he killed the 29-year-old law graduate and model accidentally after mistaking her for an intruder hiding behind a closed toilet door.

On Tuesday he told the court he had pulled the trigger without thinking after hearing a noise behind the door, out of terror and fear that his and Steenkamp’s lives were in danger.

“I was extremely fearful, overcome with a sense of terror and vulnerability,” said Pistorius, whose lower legs were amputated as a baby.

“I didn’t think about pulling the trigger, as soon as I heard the noise, before I could think about it, I pulled the trigger.”

The athlete’s voice quivered as he recounted how he was “overcome with terror and despair” on finding her bloodied body slumped against the toilet after he broke down the door with a cricket bat.

“I was broken, I was overcome, filled with sadness,” he told judge Thokozile Masipa, adding he urged Steenkamp to hold on while he sought help from neighbors at his high security Pretoria residence.

Pistorius insists he and Steenkamp were in a loving, if fledgling, relationship, despite phone text messages read in court which pointed to some arguments. On Tuesday he read a Valentine’s Day card his girlfriend got for him before her death.

“Roses are red, violets are blue,” the card begins.

“I think today is a good day to tell you that I love you,” the message concludes, the last part in Steenkamp’s own words.

The trial has drawn wide interest both in South Africa and abroad.

Before the shooting, Pistorius was one of South Africa’s most revered sportsmen, admired for his prowess on the track using carbon-fiber prosthetics that earned him the nickname “The Blade Runner” and brought him a clutch of Paralympic medals.

The defense later moved onto questioning its third witness, with the trial looking likely to run into next month.

(This story has been filed again to fix the typo in the card message in paragraph 13)

(Reporting by Nomatter Ndebele; Writing by Stella Mapenzauswa; Editing by Ed Cropleyand Alison Williams)

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Mon Apr 14, 2014 9:28am EDT

PRETORIA, April 14 (Reuters) – The prosecutor in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial on Monday accused the track star of using emotional breakdowns under cross-examination to evade answering questions about the night he killed his girlfriend.

The Olympic and Paralympic sprinter, who faces life in prison if convicted of murdering Reeva Steenkamp, says he shot the 29-year-old model in a tragic accident, firing at what he thought was an intruder hiding behind a locked toilet door.

The athlete has broken down numerous times during the 22-day trial, including retching into a bucket. He burst into tears again on Monday morning when recounting the moment he screamed at what he thought was a burglar, prompting the judge to call a 30-minute adjournment.

“Get the fuck out of my house! Get the fuck out of my house!” a trembling Pistorius said when asked to state precisely what he screamed at the perceived intruder.

He then burst into tears as family members in the public gallery rushed to comfort him.

Towards the end of the day, he again began to cry when answering questions about the immediate aftermath of the shooting.

State prosecutor Gerrie Nel, whose reputation as one of South Africa’s toughest attorneys has earned him the nickname ‘The Pitbull’, said the athlete was just putting on an act to avoid having to answer his questions.

Nel questioned why Pistorius would get upset when being asked about whether he did or did not open doors leading from his bedroom to a balcony to shout for help minutes after the shooting.

“I cannot see how that can cause you to be emotional because you cannot remember how to open a door. We’re not talking about Reeva,” Nel said, referring to previous breakdowns, which have usually been when he describes the shooting.

“You’re not using your emotional state as an escape are you?” Nel said, raising his eyebrows and shaking his head.

The murder trial has captivated South Africa and millions of athletics fans around the world who viewed Pistorius, known as the ‘Blade Runner’ because of the carbon-fibre prosthetics he uses on the track, as a symbol of triumph over adversity.

His disabled lower legs were amputated as a baby but he went on to achieve global fame, winning Paralympic gold medals and reaching the semi-finals of the 400 metres in the 2012 London Olympics against able-bodied athletes.

(Writing by Joe Brock; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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Fri Apr 11, 2014 10:18am EDT

PRETORIA, April 11 (Reuters) - Olympic and Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius broke down in court on Friday (April 11) as he came under tough cross-examination during his murder trial over the shooting of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

On the third day of his cross examination, Pistorius was grilled over specific details leading up to the shooting.

“I don’t remember,” Pistorius repeatedly said when asked about the position of certain items in the bedroom.

Pistorius says after he shot Steenkamp, he ran out onto the balcony and screamed for help. However, in a picture shown to the court, a duvet and a large stand-up electrical fan clearly block his route to the balcony door.

State prosecutor Gerrie Nel, nickamed “Pitbull”, countered with accusations that Pistorius was lying.

“That’s because it never happened. That’s why you can’t remember it,” he said.

Judge Thokozile Masipa called a brief adjournment after Pistorius got increasingly emotional, eventually breaking down in audible sobs.

“Yes, I’m very emotional… because it’s a difficult time for me to remember,” Pistorius said. “Because this is the night I lost the person that I cared about… I don’t know how people don’t understand it.”

The double amputee sprinter, once revered across the world for his triumph over physical adversity, faces life in prison if convicted in the Pretoria High Court of the murder of Steenkamp, a 29-year-old law graduate and model.

Pistorius, known as ‘Blade Runner’ due to the prosthetics he wears on the track, says he shot Steenkamp in a tragic accident, firing at what he thought was an intruder hiding behind a toilet door in his luxury Pretoria home on February 14 last year.

The three-day cross-examination later reached a dramatic climax when Nel challenged the double-amputee sprinter repeatedly as to why his girlfriend failed to scream when she was shot four times through a toilet door.

In an electric exchange in the Pretoria High Court, Gerrie Nel, one of South Africa’s top attorneys, said it was beyond belief that 29-year-old law graduate and model Reeva Steenkamp would have remained silent in the tiny cubicle with an armed Pistorius shouting and screaming in the adjoining bathroom.

Pistorius, who says he fired at what he thought was an intruder, said Steenkamp did not scream at any point in the incident in the early hours of February 14, 2013 – a central pillar of his defence.

However, under withering questioning, the 27-year-old track star was forced to concede that he may not have heard her cries because of his ears ringing from the first shot.

Several people living nearby have testified to hearing a woman’s terrified screams before and during a volley of shots.

“At that stage when you shouted and screamed at Reeva to phone the police, she is three metres away from you, in the toilet and she never uttered a word,” Nel said.

“That’s correct,” Pistorius replied.

“It’s not possible, it’s not probable. She would be scared, she would shout out and talk to you. You’re in the same room,” Nel said.

“She would have been terrified but I don’t think that would have led her to scream out. I think she would have kept quiet for that reason. If I was shouting and I was approaching the toilet and she was in the toilet then I’d presume that she would think that the danger was coming from closer to her, so why would she shout out?” Pistorius replied.

Nel, raising his voice almost to a shout, said; “Because you’re in the room, sir. Mr Pistorius, you’re now in the room shouting, she’s three metres away from you behind that particular door. There is no way that you’ll convince a court that she stood there saying nothing. Why? Why would she not say anything? It’s not true. The only reason is it’s not true.”

A court cameras showed Nel standing near the bathroom door punctured by four bullet holes.

“She was standing right in front of the toilet door talking to you when you shot her,” he said.

Pistorius denied it.

“That’s the only reasonable explanation for her standing upright. That’s the only reasonable explanation why you shot her in the hip where you did,” Nel insisted, which was again met with a denial.

“She wasn’t scared of anything, except you. She wasn’t scared of an intruder, she was scared of you,” Nel said.

“That’s not true,” Pistorius responded.

Nel went on to challenge Pistorius’s evidence that he opened fire on the bathroom door because he was convinced an intruder was about to open the door an attack him.

“You never perceived somebody coming out, am I right?”

“You’re incorrect,” Pistorius said.

“In fact you knew that Reeva was behind the door and you shot at her. That is the only thing that makes sense. You shot at her knowing she was behind that door,” Nel continued.

“It’s not true,” Pistorius insisted, his voice quivering with emotion.

At Nel’s request the case was adjourned until Monday (April 14).

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Thurs Apr 10, 2014 7:31pm EDT

PRETORIA, April 10 (Reuters) – A South African prosecutor accused Oscar Pistorius on Thursday of lying and altering his story when the Olympic and Paralympic athlete described the night he shot dead his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year.

The double amputee sprinter, once revered across the world for his triumph over physical adversity, faces life in prison if convicted in the Pretoria High Court of the murder of Steenkamp, a 29-year-old law graduate and model.

Pistorius, known as ‘Blade Runner’ due to the prosthetics he wears on the track, says he shot Steenkamp in a tragic accident, firing at what he thought was an intruder hiding behind a toilet door in his luxury Pretoria home on Feb. 14 last year.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel, whose reputation as one of South Africa’s toughest attorneys has earned him the nickname ‘The Pitbull’, cross-examined Pistorius while looking through photographs of the couple’s bedroom taken after the shooting.

In a period of fierce questioning, Nel pointed out a series of objects in one picture which ran counter to Pistorius’ account of events. In response, the sprinter accused the police of tampering with the scene but Nel ridiculed this suggestion.

“Let’s sum up: A policeman moved the two fans, put the duvet on the floor, opened the curtains wider than they should be before the photographs were taken,” Nel said.

“Your version is so improbable that nobody would ever think it’s reasonably possibly true … Your version is a lie.”

Pistorius says after he shot Steenkamp, he ran out onto the balcony and screamed for help. However, in a picture shown to the court, a duvet and a large stand-up electrical fan clearly block his route to the balcony door.

With no direct witnesses, Nel’s main task is to pick holes in Pistorius’ testimony and cast doubt on his assertion he believed a burglar was in his house, a common fear in crime-obsessed South Africa.

Witnesses in nearby buildings have testified to hearing a woman’s scream before the sound of shots, which the prosecution hopes will help prove that the couple had a heated argument before Pistorius intentionally killed Steenkamp.

“ANYBODY BUT YOURSELF”

During much of the 19-day trial, Nel has sought to portray Pistorius as an arrogant hot-head who is reckless with firearms and refuses to take responsibility for his actions.

“You will blame anybody but yourself,” Nel said to the 27-year-old track star, cross-examining him about a separate incident in which Pistorius is accused of firing a pistol in a packed restaurant.

Pistorius said the gun was given to him by a friend under the restaurant table and went off by itself. Police Captain Christian Mangena gave evidence earlier in the trial, saying the weapon could only fire if the trigger was pulled.

The athlete said he could not explain how the gun went off and questioned his own defence advocate Barry Roux’s decision not to cross-examine Mangena on his evidence.

“Now you blame counsel Mr Roux,” Nel said, prompting Roux to shake his head at a colleague.

“You are lying,” Nel said, holding Pistorius in a stare. “You just refuse to take responsibility for anything.”

In a dramatic opening to his cross-examination on Wednesday, Nel shocked the Pretoria court when he confronted Pistorius with a graphic photograph of the dead Steenkamp showing the side and back of her skull, her hair matted with blood and brain tissue.

Pistorius broke down and sobbed as Nel pushed him repeatedly to take responsibility for killing Steenkamp.

(Writing by Ed Cropley. Additional reporting by Nomatter Ndebele; Writing by Joe Brock; Editing by Pascal Fletcher)

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Wed Apr 9, 2014 3:24pm EDT

In a dramatic opening to his cross-examination of Pistorius, prosecutor Gerrie Nel made him admit he had killed Steenkamp then later confronted him with the photograph showing the side and back of her skull, her hair matted with blood and brains.

“Have a look there. I know you don’t want to because you don’t want to take responsibility,” Nel said to gasps from the packed public gallery.

“Take responsibility for what you have done,” Nel persisted, his voice rising almost to a shout.

Pistorius responded by burying his head in his hands in the witness stand, rocking from side to side and weeping.

The double amputee sprinter, once revered across the world for his triumph over adversity, faces life in prison if convicted in the Pretoria High Court of the murder of Steenkamp, a 29-year-old law graduate and model.

His defense hinges on his contention that he thought he was firing at an intruder when he shot Steenkamp through a toilet door in his luxury Pretoria home on February 14 – Valentine’s Day – last year.

“ZOMBIE STOPPER”

During the 18-day trial, Nel, renowned as one of South Africa’s toughest state attorneys with the nickname ‘The Pitbull’, has sought to show the 27-year-old as a gun-obsessed hot-head.

Early in his questioning, he asked Pistorius if he knew what a “zombie stopper” was, to which the defendant answered no.

After a brief adjournment, the court then viewed video footage broadcast before the trial by Britain’s Sky News of Pistorius firing a .50 caliber handgun at a watermelon at a shooting range.

As the melon disintegrates, Pistorius says off-camera: “It’s a lot softer than brains. But (bleep) it’s like a zombie stopper.”

Nel then pushed the track star, saying he had shot the melon because he wanted to see what a bullet hitting a person’s head looked like.

“You know that the same happened to Reeva’s head. It exploded. I’m going to show you,” he said, before projecting the

forensic photograph of Steenkamp’s head on the court monitors.

Steenkamp was hit by three of four 9 mm rounds fired by Pistorius through the toilet door. One hit her behind the right ear, killing her almost instantly, pathologists had earlier told the court.

Pistorius acknowledged responsibility but refused to lift his head.

“I don’t have to look at a picture. I was there,” he said.

Television stations carrying the feed from the court apologized to viewers as the graphic image was broadcast live.

BALCONY CRUCIAL

With no direct witnesses, Nel’s main task is to pick holes in Pistorius’ testimony and cast doubt on his statements about a perceived burglar, a common fear in crime-obsessed South Africa.

Crucially, he forced Pistorius to concede that he did not go out on to the balcony in the middle of the hot and humid night to bring two fans inside – the instant during which, he said in a sworn affidavit submitted at his bail hearing, that he believed Steenkamp went to the toilet without him realizing.

“You can’t get away, Mr. Pistorius,” Nel said.

Pistorius was forced to concede: “My memory isn’t very good at the moment.”

Earlier, he described his frantic attempts to revive Steenkamp after he found her lying barely alive on the toilet floor and how she had died minutes later in his arms, her blood pouring over his body.

“I checked to see if she was breathing and she wasn’t,” he said. “I could feel the blood was running down on me.”

After several attempts, he managed to carry Steenkamp down stairs where neighbors tried to administer first aid before paramedics arrived.

But Pistorius said he knew that Steenkamp – with whom he said he was planning to buy a house – was already dead.

“Reeva, Reeva had already died whilst I was holding her, before the ambulance arrived, so I knew there was nothing they could do for her.”

(Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Stella Mapenzauswa and Angus MacSwan)

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Tue Apr 8, 2014 2:58pm EDT

Taking the witness stand, the double amputee – accused of murdering 29-year-old law graduate and model Reeva Steenkamp – recounted hearing a window sliding open in his bathroom in the middle of the night on Valentine’s Day 2013.

Conditioned by years of living in crime-ridden South Africa, Pistorius said the noises convinced him someone was breaking into his luxury Pretoria home and that he needed to protect himself and his lover.

“That’s the moment that everything changed,” he said, his voice tense with emotion. “I thought that there was a burglar that was gaining entry to my home.”

“The first thing that ran through my mind was that I needed to arm myself, that I needed to protect Reeva and that I needed to get my gun,” said the 27-year-old, who faces life in prison if convicted of murder.

Pistorius said he felt in the dark with his fingers, grabbed a 9mm pistol lying under the bed, then moved on his stumps down the passageway leading from the bedroom towards the bathroom and the would-be intruder or intruders.

“I shouted for Reeva to get on the floor and for her to phone the police. I screamed at the people to get out,” he said.

According to his account, as he peered round the door of the bathroom – his outstretched right hand holding the pistol, his left hand steadying himself against the wall – he noticed the bathroom window was open, confirming his worst fears.

“I wasn’t sure where to point my firearm. I had it pointed at the toilet but my eyes were going between the window and the toilet. I stood there for some time. I’m not sure how long.

“I just stayed where I was and kept on screaming. Then I heard a noise from inside the toilet that I perceived to be somebody coming out of the toilet. Before I knew it, I had fired four shots at the door.”

“CRYING OUT TO THE LORD”

With his ears ringing, he continued to scream for Steenkamp to call the police, he said, until it slowly dawned on him that his girlfriend might have been the one behind the door.

“I was screaming and shouting the whole time. I don’t think I have ever screamed or cried like that. I was crying out to the Lord to help me. I was crying out to Reeva,” he said, choking back the tears.

He then recounted how he bashed out a panel of the wooden door with a cricket bat to reveal Steenkamp – the woman with whom he said had been planning on buying a house – slumped on the floor in a pool of blood.

“I sat over Reeva and I cried,” he said, before breaking down into uncontrollable sobs, causing Judge Thokozile Masipa to adjourn the hearing for the day.

Pistorius’ testimony was broadly in line with a sworn affidavit he gave at his bail hearing just over a year ago. At the time, magistrate Desmond Nair pointed to what he said were a number of “improbabilities” in the version of events.

“I have difficulty in appreciating why the accused would not seek to ascertain who exactly was in the toilet,” Nair said at the time. “I also have difficulty in appreciating why the deceased would not have screamed back from the toilet.”

“CAN’T YOU SLEEP, MY BABA?”

Several witnesses have testified to hearing a man’s shouts coming from the house although they have also spoken of the terrified screams of a woman leading up to and during a volley of shots. Prosecutors allege that Pistorius and Steenkamp had a violent argument before he pulled a gun on her.

The trial, now in its 18th day, has gripped South Africa and millions of sports and athletics fans around the world who saw Pistorius as a symbol of triumph over physical adversity.

His disabled lower legs were amputated as a baby but he went on to achieve global fame as the “fastest man on no legs”, winning numerous Paralympic gold medals and reaching the semi-finals of the 400 meters in the 2012 London Olympics against able-bodied athletes.

Earlier, defense advocate Barry Roux led Pistorius through a series of text messages between himself and Steenkamp that painted the picture of a young couple besotted with each other, nearly every message ending in ‘xx’ or a term of endearment.

The image was a far cry from the gun-obsessed, fast-living hothead whom prosecutors sought to portray in the first three weeks of the trial.

“I wish I could tuck you in and get you feeling better,” Pistorius said in one message after Steenkamp complained of feeling under the weather. “Thank you for being the most beautiful person to me,” she said in another message to him.

However, prosecutors have also used the same cache of messages retrieved from Pistorius’ phone to reveal outbursts of temper and jealousy.

During his testimony, he also revealed Steenkamp’s last words, spoken to him after he woke hot and uncomfortable in the early hours of February 14 before going to move some fans and close the external sliding doors of his bedroom.

“‘Can’t you sleep, my baba?’” he quoted her as saying from the bed beside him. “I said ‘No, I can’t’.”

As he outlined his version of events, Steenkamp’s mother June, who had sat steely faced throughout Pistorius’ two days on the stand, leant forward slowly and buried her head in her hands.

(Additional reporting by Olivia Kumwenda and Joe Brock; Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Pascal Fletcher)

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Mon Apr 7, 2014 11:02am EDT

(Reuters) – His voice trembling with emotion, Oscar Pistorius took the witness stand in his own defense on Monday, saying the Valentine’s Day shooting of his girlfriend last year had left him sleepless, terrified and plagued by nightmares.

The disabled South African track star, on trial for murder, apologized to the mother of model Reeva Steenkamp, saying he had fired four times through a toilet door at his luxury Pretoria home in the belief he was defending her from an intruder.

Steenkamp, a law graduate and model, was hit by at least three rounds, one of which – to the head – killed her almost instantly, the court has heard.

“I was simply trying to protect Reeva,” Pistorius told the Pretoria High Court at the start of his testimony. Reeva’s mother June Steenkamp, sitting stony-faced in the packed public gallery, bowed her head.

The 27-year-old Olympic and Paralympic star, who faces life in prison if convicted of murder, testified he had been on anti-depressants and sleeping pills because of his disturbed state of mind since the shooting.

“I’m scared to sleep. I have terrible nightmares about things that happened that night,” he said.

“I can smell blood. I wake up to being terrified.”

He recounted one occasion when he woke up so scared in the middle of the night that he crawled into a cupboard before calling his sister, who came round to sit with him.

“I wake up in a complete state of terror to the point that I would rather not sleep,” he said, adding that his faith had helped pull him through.

“There have been times when I’ve just been struggling a lot,” he said, fighting to maintain his composure.

“My god is my god of refuge.”

Earlier, during graphic forensic testimony from a defense pathologist, Pistorius retched into a bucket in the dock.

OBSESSION WITH GUNS

The distraught, bespectacled figure was in stark contrast to the gun-obsessed, fast-living hothead that prosecutors had described in the first 16 days of the trial.

As well as murder, Pistorius is accused of firing a pistol through the sun roof of a friend’s car while on a public road, and discharging a handgun under the table of a packed Johannesburg restaurant.

He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Now in its 17th day, the trial has gripped South Africa and millions of fans around the world who have seen in Pistorius a symbol of triumph over physical adversity.

The sprinter’s lower legs were amputated as a baby but he went on to achieve global fame as the “Blade Runner”, after the slender carbon fiber prosthetic limbs he wears on the track.

After winning gold medals at the Beijing and London Paralympics, he stunned the world by reaching the semi-finals of the 400 meters in the London Olympics against able-bodied athletes.

In testimony, Pistorius described his difficult early years as a disabled child before his sporting prowess earned him respect and recognition at school.

He also spoke of the pressures of fame, the toll travelling to athletics meetings took on his family and personal life and of his fears of life in crime-ridden South Africa.

“When we were growing up, we were exposed to crime – house break-ins, family members being assaulted and hijacked,” he said. “Many members of my family have been victims of house break-ins and violent crime.”

“EXHAUSTED”

His defense hinges on his assertion, made under oath at his bail hearing, that he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder hiding in the toilet and opened fire.

However, witnesses living close to Pistorius’ home in a gated Pretoria community have testified to hearing the terrified screams of a woman before and during a volley of shots in the early hours of February 14, 2014.

South Africa’s firearms and self-defense laws make clear a person may only shoot if there is a direct threat to somebody’s life – regulations Pistorius acknowledged in a written gun-license test presented by the prosecution.

Ashen-faced, Pistorius said he had not slept the night before his testimony, leading Judge Thokozile Masipa to adjourn the session early after little more than an hour of cross-examination.

“He does look exhausted,” Masipa said. “He does sound exhausted.” As he stepped from the witness box, Pistorius slumped into the outstretched arms of his sister Aimee.

The trial resumes at 0730 GMT on Tuesday.

(Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Andrew Roche)

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Fri Mar 28, 2014 9:36am EDT

(Reuters) – The murder trial of Oscar Pistorius was adjourned on Friday until April 7, when the South African Paralympic and Olympic track star is expected to take the stand in his own defense in a high-stakes bid to prove his innocence and avoid life in prison.

Judge Thokozile Masipa postponed proceedings for more than a week due to the illness of one of the legal assistants who has been sitting at her side throughout the trial, one of the most high-profile in South African history.

Prosecutors took 15 days to lay out their case against the 27-year-old, arguing he deliberately killed girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in the early hours of Valentine’s Day last year by firing four rounds from a 9 mm pistol through a closed toilet door.

Several neighbors testified to hearing a woman’s terrified screams before a volley of shots, countering Pistorius’ assertions that he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder hiding in the toilet cubicle in the middle of the night.

If found guilty of murder, Pistorius faces at least 25 years in prison.

The trial has gripped South Africa and millions of athletics fans around the world who saw Pistorius as a symbol of triumph over physical adversity.

The sprinter’s lower legs were amputated as a baby but he went on to achieve global fame as the “fastest man on no legs,” winning gold medals at the Beijing and London Paralympics.

He also won a battle against athletics authorities for the right to compete against able-bodied men, becoming the first amputee runner at an Olympics when he reached the 400 meters semi-finals in London 2012.

(Reporting by Ed Cropley; editing by David Dolan)

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Tue Mar 25, 2014 11:46am EDT

(Reuters) – State prosecutors wrapped up their case on Tuesday against South African track star Oscar Pistorius, who is accused of murdering his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year.

Prosecutors are seeking to prove that the Olympic and Paralympic athlete tried to kill Steenkamp deliberately by firing four rounds from a 9 mm pistol through a locked toilet door after a heated argument.

Pistorius, nicknamed the “Blade Runner” due to his carbon-fiber prosthetic limbs, has pleaded not guilty, saying he was deeply in love with 29-year-old Steenkamp and that he mistook her for an intruder hiding in a toilet at his luxury Pretoria home.

Defense lawyers spent much of Tuesday going through some of the thousands of text messages the pair sent each other in the weeks before Steenkamp’s death to focus on their “loving relationship”.

A day earlier, police expert Francois Moller read out a series of retrieved messages that painted a picture of a volatile, stormy relationship, with Steenkamp accusing Pistorius of continual jealousy and outbursts of anger.

“I’m scared of you sometimes and how you snap at me and of how you will react to me,” one message sent by Steenkamp on January 27, 2013 said.

Moller said despite the arguments, 90 percent of the messages were normal, often loving, interactions.

Defense lawyer Barry Roux pointed to an exchange on January 19 in which Steenkamp sent Pistorius a photo of herself blowing a kiss into the camera, followed by the question: “You like it?”

“I love it,” Pistorius replied.

Roux also showed CCTV footage from nine days before Steenkamp’s death that showed the couple kissing in a convenience store, followed by another text exchange between them.

“I miss you one more than you miss me,” the message from Pistorius read.

Pistorius’ lower legs were amputated as a baby but he went on to achieve global fame as the “fastest man on no legs,” winning gold medals at the Beijing and London Paralympics.

He also won a battle against athletics authorities for the right to compete against able-bodied men, becoming the first amputee runner at an Olympics when he reached the 400 meters semi-finals in London 2012.

The court adjourned until Friday, when the defense will start revealing its own argument and evidence in support of Pistorius’ innocence.

The 27-year-old is expected to take the stand in his own defense – a high stakes gamble that could backfire if holes start to emerge in the version of events he submitted in sworn testimony at his bail hearing a year ago.

If found guilty of murder, he faces at least 25 years in prison.

(Reporting by Tiisetso Motsoeneng; Editing by Joe Brock)

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Mon Mar 24, 2014 12:13pm EDT

(Reuters) – Oscar Pistorius’ girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, said she was scared of the South African track star in a text message sent less than three weeks before he shot her dead, a police expert told his murder trial on Monday.

The Olympic and Paralympic athlete is on trial for the murder of 29-year-old model and law graduate Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day 2013.

He has pleaded not guilty to murder, saying he was deeply in love with Steenkamp, who he had been dating for a few months, and that he mistook her for an intruder hiding in a toilet at his luxury Pretoria home.

However, text messages between the pair in the weeks leading up to the shooting painted a picture of a volatile, stormy relationship, with Steenkamp accusing Pistorius of continual jealousy and outbursts of anger.

“I’m scared of you sometimes and how you snap at me and of how you will react to me,” one message sent by Steenkamp on January 27, 2013, said.

As police expert Francois Moller read out the messages to the court on Day 14 of the trial, Pistorius sat in the dock, his head buried in his hands.

“We are living in a double standard relationship. Every five seconds I hear about how you dated another chick. You really have dated a lot of people yet you get upset if I mention one funny story with a long-term boyfriend,” the Steenkamp message continued.

“You make me happy 90% of the time and I think we are amazing together but I am not some other bitch you may know trying to kill your vibe.”

Moller said he had analysed thousands of mobile phone messages sent between the couple found and 90 percent of them to be normal, often loving, interactions.

However, another exchange backed up the testimony of an earlier witness who said the 27-year-old athlete fired a pistol under a table in a packed Johannesburg restaurant and then asked his friend to take the blame.

DEFENCE WITNESSES

“Angel please don’t say a thing to anyone. Darren told everyone it was his fault. I can’t afford for that to come out. The guys promised not to say a thing,” the message sent by Pistorius on January 11, the day of the incident, said.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Steenkamp replied, ending the message with a smiley face.

The court adjourned for the day before Moller concluded his evidence, leaving the gallery waiting for messages between the couple in the days and hours before the killing.

Prosecutors are seeking to prove Pistorius tried to kill Steenkamp deliberately by firing four rounds from a 9 mm pistol through a locked toilet door after a heated argument.

Throughout the trial, they have tried to portray him as a gun-obsessed hot-head, who also fired a handgun through the open sun-roof of a car after an argument with a policeman.

The state is expected to wrap up its case this week, although a slew of defence witnesses waiting in the wings suggests the trial is likely to run into May.

The delays and extra expenses have forced Pistorius to sell the luxury Pretoria home in which he killed Steenkamp so he can pay his mounting legal fees.

Pistorius’ lower legs were amputated as a baby but he went on to achieve global fame as the “fastest man on no legs”, running on carbon-fibre prosthetic limbs to win gold medals at the Beijing and London Paralympics.

Nicknamed the “Blade Runner”, he also won a battle against athletics authorities for the right to compete against able-bodied men, becoming the first amputee runner at an Olympics when he reached the 400 metres semi-finals at London 2012.

His sporting feats and good looks made him one of the world’s most marketable athletes but lucrative deals with brands such as Nike and eyeware maker Oakley were dropped when murder charges were brought against him.

(Writing by Joe Brock; Editing by Ed Cropley and Alison Williams)

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Wed Mar 19, 2014 12:17pm EDT

(Reuters) – Oscar Pistorius’ girlfriend was first shot in the hip, not the head, a South African police ballistics expert told his murder trial on Wednesday, supporting the testimony of earlier witnesses who said they heard screams during a volley of shots.

The Olympic and Paralympic track star’s defense has argued Reeva Steenkamp was first hit in the head and could not have continued to scream in the early hours of Valentine’s Day 2013, when she was killed at his luxury Pretoria home.

Pistorius has pleaded not guilty to the premeditated murder of the 29-year-old model and law graduate, saying he shot her through the toilet door in a tragic accident, having mistaken her for an intruder.

Prosecutors are seeking to prove that Pistorius fired four rounds through the door from a 9 mm pistol, in a deliberate attempt to kill. If found guilty of murder, he faces a minimum of 25 years behind bars.

Police ballistics expert Christian Mangena said he believed Steenkamp had been standing behind the door when the first bullet struck her hip, causing her to fall down on top of a magazine rack next to the toilet seat.

He said she was most likely seated in a defensive position by the time the final bullet hit her in the head. “Reeva must have had both hands covering her head protectively,” Mangena testified.

“The last bullet hit her on the head, breaking the skull.”

The court also saw grisly pictures of the blood-spattered toilet.

WITNESSES TELL OF SCREAMS

Mangena’s testimony is consistent with that of previous witnesses, who said they heard screams from a woman before and during a burst of gunshots.

The first witness at the trial, Pistorius’ neighbor Michelle Burger, testified to having heard “bloodcurdling screams” before four shots went off in the early hours of February 14. She also said the screams began to fade after the final shot.

Pistorius’ lower legs were amputated as a baby but he went on to achieve global fame as the “fastest man on no legs,” running on carbon-fiber prosthetic limbs to win gold medals at the Beijing and London Paralympics.

Nicknamed the “Blade Runner”, he also reached the 400 meters semi-finals at the London 2012 Olympics, competing against able-bodied athletes.

After reconstructing the murder scene, firing several rounds of bullets from different heights and positions, Mangena concluded Pistorius was not on his prosthetics when he fired the shots.

In an affidavit in his bail hearing last year, Pistorius testified he felt especially vulnerable because he was on his stumps when he thought an intruder had entered his home.

South Africa has one of the world’s highest crime rates and violent break-ins are common. However, the state has attempted to portray Pistorius as short-tempered and obsessed by guns.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel told the court that the state would be ready to rest its case next week, earlier than experts had anticipated and setting up the defense to call Pistorius as a witness.

(Reporting by Lynette Ndabambi; Editing by Tosin Sulaiman, David Dolan and Mark Trevelyan)

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Mon Mar 17, 2014 10:18am EDT

(Reuters) – Double-amputee Olympian Oscar Pistorius, on trial for the murder of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, was aware of South African firearms and self-defense laws that say you cannot shoot at an intruder unless your life is in danger, a court heard on Monday.

Testifying on day 11 of the trial, firearms instructor Sean Rens read out a gun license test passed by the track athlete, who shot dead Steenkamp through a locked toilet door at his Pretoria home on Valentine’s Day last year.

One of the questions asked whether a home-owner was allowed to open fire on burglars on the other side of a security gate.

Pistorius answered: “No”, Rens, who taught Pistorius gun safety and sold him weapons, told the court.

Asked in the test about the legal basis for using lethal force, Pistorius answered: “The attack must be against you, a person and be unlawful.” In answer to another scenario, Pistorius replied: “No, life is not in danger.”

Pistorius also made clear that a gun-owner should never shoot unless he was knew what he was shooting at, and what lay behind the target: “Know your target and what lies beyond,” Rens said, quoting Pistorius’ answer.

The Paralympic gold medalist, known as the “Blade Runner” on account of his carbon-fiber prostheses, denies the murder charge, saying he shot Steenkamp in a tragic accident after mistaking her, through the door, for a night-time intruder.

Rens also told the court of an incident, related to him by Pistorius, in which the athlete heard noises in his house and went into “code-red or combat mode” only to find the source of the disturbance was a washing machine.

At the time, Pistorius joked on his Twitter account of having gone into “full attack recon mode in the pantry” after thinking an intruder was in his home.

Rens also testified that Pistorius had ordered seven firearms – including an assault rifle and a Smith and Wesson 500 revolver, one of the world’s most powerful handguns – although the orders were cancelled shortly after Steenkamp’s death.

The testimony is likely to back the prosecution’s attempts to depict Pistorius as a gun-obsessed hot-head.

Pistorius’ lower legs were amputated as a baby but he overcame the disability to become the “fastest man on no legs”, running on artificial limbs to win gold medals at the Beijing and London Paralympics. He also reached the 400 meters semi-finals at the London Games, competing against able-bodied athletes.

If found guilty of murder, he faces at least 25 years behind bars.

(Reporting and writing by Xola Potelwa; Editing by Ed Cropley and Alison Williams)

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Fri Mar 14, 2014 11:55am EDT

(Reuters) – South African police faced further embarrassment at the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius on Friday when it emerged that a valuable watch had vanished from the crime scene and a ballistic expert had handled the athlete’s gun without gloves.

The Olympic and Paralympic ‘Blade Runner’ denies the premeditated murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year, saying he shot her in a tragic accident after mistaking her for a night-time intruder.

On day 10 of the trial, Colonel Schoombie Van Rensburg, the first policeman to arrive at Pistorius’ home in an upmarket Pretoria estate, expressed his anger at forensic blunders but had his own work called into question by the defense.

Van Rensburg said the missing watch was one of eight found in the house.

“I told the whole forensic team that those watches were a big concern of mine,” he told the court. “Then one of the forensic experts mentioned that this particular watch, a green and black one, was valued between 50,000 and 100,000 rand ($4,650 to $9,300).

“I went down to the garage, then one of the officers came and mentioned that one of these watches is missing. And I said ‘What do you mean? I can’t believe it. We were just there.’”

He said everyone in the house, including all of the police officers present, were then subjected to a body search and their cars were also swept, but the watch had vanished.

POLICE CREDIBILITY

In another example of botched police work, Van Rensburg described how a ballistics expert had held Pistorius’ gun in his hands without gloves. “I was very angry and was not very pleased with what I saw,” he said.

This may not be material to the case as there is no dispute that Pistorius fired the fatal shots. But the overall credibility of the investigation could still prove crucial to the outcome of a trial that has gripped South Africa and is expected to last for several more weeks.

Days after the killing of Steenkamp last year, it emerged that Hilton Botha, the initial lead detective in the case, was himself facing attempted murder charges for firing on a minibus full of passengers.

Ridiculed for his slipshod handling of the initial investigation, he was pulled off the case and then resigned from the force. Van Rensburg has also subsequently retired but remains a key witness.

If found guilty of premeditated murder, Pistorius faces at least 25 years behind bars. The athlete says he was convinced he was shooting at an intruder when he fired four bullets through a locked toilet door, three of which hit Steenkamp.

The first photographs of Pistorius after the shooting were displayed in court on Friday, showing the heavily muscled athlete bare-chested and staring vacantly at the camera, with blood spattered on his rumpled shorts and left arm.

Pistorius had his lower legs amputated as a baby, but he overcame the disability to become the “fastest man on no legs”, running on carbon-fiber “blades” to win gold medals at the Beijing and London Paralympics.

He was not wearing his artificial legs at the time of the shooting, and has said this made him feel vulnerable and panicky, part of the reasoning behind his plea of ‘not guilty’ to the murder of law graduate and model Steenkamp.

His lawyer Barry Roux tried to raise questions about the police handling of the crime scene, noting that in one police photo a cell phone was visible, whereas Van Rensburg conceded it was covered by a towel when he first arrived.

“We are trying to find out when can we rely on a scene photo as a true reflection, and when is it changed,” Roux said.

The trial resumes on Monday.

($1 = 10.7760 South African Rand)

(Writing by Ed Stoddard; Editing by Ed Cropley and Mark Trevelyan)

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Thu Mar 13, 2014 11:49am EDT

(Reuters) – A South African court saw graphic images on Thursday of the bloodstained bathroom in which Oscar Pistorius shot his girlfriend, as prosecutors unveiled more details of the scene of the Valentine’s Day killing.

Colonel Schoombie van Rensburg, the first policeman to arrive at the athlete’s home in an upmarket Pretoria estate, described the grisly sight that greeted him in the early hours of February 14 last year.

During his testimony, photographs of Steenkamp’s face and body were also shown accidentally to the court, upsetting Pistorius, who vomited into a bucket for the second time since the start of the trial, now in its second week.

Van Rensburg said that on his arrival at the home, he saw Steenkamp’s body lying at the bottom of the staircase covered in towels and black bags. She had been declared dead by medics by the time he arrived.

Moments later, he found a “very emotional” Pistorius in the kitchen pacing up and down.

“I asked him what happened but he didn’t answer me,” Van Rensburg told the court. “He was in tears.”

The colonel said a trail of blood led him up the stairs to Pistorius’ bedroom and the bathroom where the Paralympic and Olympic star shot Steenkamp, whom he says he mistook for an intruder.

Pistorius’ lower limbs were amputated as a baby but he overcame the disability to become the “fastest man on no legs”, running on carbon-fiber “blades” to win gold medals at the Beijing and London Paralympics. He has pleaded ‘not guilty’ to murdering law graduate and model Steenkamp.

Prosecutors are trying to prove that the killing was premeditated. If found guilty of murder, Pistorius faces at least 25 years behind bars.

The court was shown photos of the blood-spattered bathroom floor on which lay a crumpled, blood-soaked towel and a cricket bat that Pistorius used to break down the bathroom door after shooting through it.

The photos showed empty bullet cartridges on the floor and the 9mm pistol with which Pistorious fired four shots. Steenkamp was hit three times: in the head, arm and hip.

Asked by state prosecutor Gerrie Nel what condition the firearm was in, van Rensburg said it was cocked, with the safety catch removed.

“It’s ready to fire,” he said, when shown a photo. “You just have to pull the trigger.”

Van Rensburg, a police veteran of 29 years’ service, was the commander of the nearby Boschkop police station at the time of the incident and had been on duty for 24 hours when he was called, he told the court.

He resigned from the police last December.

(Reporting by Tosin Sulaiman; Editing by Ed Cropley and Robin Pomeroy)

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Tue Mar 11, 2014 12:29pm EDT

(Reuters) – South African track star Oscar Pistorius had a row with a policeman who picked up his gun after pulling over his friend for speeding, saying “You can’t just touch another man’s gun,” the friend told his murder trial on Tuesday.

Pistorius, a double amputee, is accused of murdering girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year. He maintains he shot her through a locked toilet door believing an intruder was lurking in his luxury Pretoria home.

His friend, Darren Fresco, told the court in Pretoria that he had been driving south of Johannesburg in September 2012 when Pistorius, nicknamed “Bladerunner” for his carbon fiber prosthetics, and his then girlfriend Samantha Taylor were flagged down.

“Another officer went over to the passenger seat where Oscar Pistorius was sitting and he picked up a gun. There was a verbal altercation between the accused and the officer,” Fresco said.

“Pistorius said to the officer, ‘You can’t just touch another man’s gun,’” Fresco said. “Then they argued.”

After being allowed to leave, Pistorius “out of the blue” fired the gun through the open sunroof of the car, to the astonishment of Fresco, who was driving at the time.

“Apologies for my language, but I asked him if he was fucking mad,” Fresco told the court. “He just laughed.”

In another shooting incident, the 27-year-old Paralympic and Olympic star asked Fresco to take the rap on his behalf after discharging a firearm inside a packed Johannesburg restaurant.

“Being a friend I said I would, with pleasure,” the long-haired Fresco said.

Pistorius is facing separate gun charges for the two incidents, part of the prosecution’s attempts to paint Pistorius as a cocky, gun-obsessed hot-head who does not like to take responsibility for his actions.

Of the four rounds he fired through the toilet door, three hit his girlfriend, a 29-year-old model and law graduate, on the hip, shoulder and head.

Earlier, state pathologist Gert Saayman had told the court that food found in Steenkamp’s stomach suggested she had eaten food at about 1 a.m. – two hours before she died and in contradiction to Pistorius’ testimony that the couple went to bed at 10 p.m.

Saayman said Steenkamp would have most certainly screamed after being shot in the arm and hip before a final shot in the head killed her.

Pistorius wept and vomited several times into a bucket as Saayman detailed the extent of Steenkamp’s injuries the previous day.

“After the first shot on the hip, screaming would have been possible, and expression of fear or anguish,” Saayman said. “It would be abnormal for someone not to scream.”

Some of Pistorius’ neighbors said in their court testimonies last week they heard a woman screaming during the shooting, but Pistorius’ lawyer insists what they heard were high-pitched cries from his client.

If found guilty of murder, Pistorius faces at least 25 years behind bars.

The killing has ignited debate about gun control and domestic violence in South Africa, where many women die at the hands of relatives.

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Mon Mar 10, 2014 10:00am EDT

(Reuters) – Track star Oscar Pistorius, on trial for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, wept and vomited into a bucket in a South African courtroom on Monday after hearing graphic details from her autopsy.

Pathologist Gert Saayman was interrupted several times by the 27-year-old Paralympic andOlympic athlete’s sobbing and retching but the defense team argued against an adjournment, saying a break would not improve his state of mind.

Earlier, Judge Thokozile Masipa imposed a broadcast blackout on Saayman’s testimony out of respect for Steenkamp’s family and to prevent children from accidentally hearing its contents.

“Broadcast would compromise the privacy of the deceased, hurt the interests of the Steenkamps and be against the morals of society,” Saayam said when he took the stand to ask for a temporary broadcast blackout of a trial that has so far been shown in its entirety on live television.

Masipa, who has been presiding over the week-long trial, extended the ban to live reporting on Twitter.

Pistorius, nicknamed “Bladerunner” for the special prosthetics he wears in competition, admits he shot 29-year-old Steenkamp, a model and law graduate, but argues that it was a tragic case of mistaken identity and that he thought she was an intruder who had broken in to his luxury Pretoria home.

In his testimony, Saayman confirmed that Steenkamp was hit in the head, arm and hip by three shots fired through the locked door of a toilet cubicle. A fourth round fired by Pistorius missed.

Saayman also disclosed Pistorius was using ‘hollow-point’ rounds, ammunition designed to disintegrate on impact with tissue to cause maximum damage.

Her right upper arm was shattered, the hip wound could well have been fatal, while that to her head would have incapacitated her immediately, he added. No blood was found in her airways, suggesting she breathed only a few times before dying.

In between bouts of sobbing and retching, Pistorius sat with his head bowed, covering his ears with his hands and a white handkerchief in an attempt to block out Saayman’s testimony.

Saayman is the first expert to testify at the trial, which has so far heard several witnesses who reported hearing a woman screaming before a volley of shots in the early hours of February 14 – Valentine’s Day – at Pistorius’ home.

The killing stunned South Africa and the millions of Pistorius supporters around the world who admired the athlete as a symbol of triumph over physical adversity.

He had his disabled lower legs amputated as a baby but – running on carbon fiber prosthetic “blades” – made it to the semi-final of the 400 meters at the London 2012 Olympics competing against able-bodied sprinters.

If found guilty of murder, he faces at least 25 years behind bars.

(Additional reporting by Lynette Ndabambi, Writing by Ed Cropley, Editing by David Dolan and Angus MacSwan)

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Fri Mar 7, 2014 12:46pm EST

(Reuters) – Around 10 minutes after shooting dead his model girlfriend through a locked toilet door, South African track star Oscar Pistorius told a housing estate security guard “everything is fine”, his murder trial heard on Friday.

Testifying on the fifth day of the trial at the Pretoria High Court, Pieter Baba, who was on guard duty the night Pistorius killed 29-year-old Reeva Steenkamp, said he received a call from the athlete at 3:21 a.m., around five minutes after Steenkamp was shot.

Pistorius was too upset to say anything on the call, Baba said, speaking in Afrikaans through an interpreter.

However, when Baba – concerned that something was wrong – called him back a few minutes later, Pistorius told him: “Security, everything is fine.” Baba delivered the quote in English.

The dramatic testimony from one of the first people on the scene capped a week of hearings in which several witnesses described hearing a woman’s shouts and screams before a volley of shots in the early hours of Valentine’s Day last year.

Steenkamp died after being hit by three of four rounds fired by Pistorius from a 9 mm pistol through the door of a toilet cubicle in an upstairs bathroom in his luxury home in a Pretoria gated community. The shooting stunned South Africa and millions of Pistorius supporters around the world.

The 27-year-old – one of the most recognized men in world athletics – denies murder, saying it was a tragic accident and that he mistook her for an intruder. If found guilty, he is likely to spend at least 25 years behind bars.

“SHOOT A ROBOT”

As well as the murder charge, Pistorius is being tried for three firearms offences, part of prosecution attempts to portray him as a gun-obsessed hot-head.

Earlier on Friday, ex-girlfriend Samantha Taylor told the court how a seething Pistorius had fired his pistol out of a car’s open sun-roof after a heated argument with a police officer in September 2012.

Taylor said she, Pistorius and a friend, Darren Fresco, had been pulled over by a policeman for speeding. When he saw Pistorius’ pistol lying on the car seat, the officer picked it up and emptied its magazine onto the floor of the car, prompting an outburst from Pistorius, she said.

When they were allowed to go on their way, Pistorius and Fresco started to joke about shooting out a traffic light, known in South Africa as a robot, Taylor said.

“Oscar was very angry,” said Taylor, who was sitting in the back seat at the time of the incident. “Thereafter they were joking around and saying they wanted to shoot a robot.”

“Two minutes after, I saw Oscar take his gun and shoot out of the car roof. A very loud sound. They both laughed,” she said.

Taylor’s testimony comes two days after the court heard how Pistorius accidentally fired a pistol under the table in a packed Johannesburg restaurant – right next to a child – and then asked his friend Fresco to take the blame.

PISTORIUS WOKE GIRLFRIEND

Taylor, who broke up with Pistorius when he started dating Steenkamp in late 2012, also described two other incidents in which Pistorius drew his gun.

The first was when he jumped out of his car at the gateway of his Pretoria housing complex and put his gun to the window of a black BMW that appeared to have been following him.

The other was when he woke up in the middle of the night after hearing a bang in the bathroom.

“Something hit the bathroom window and Oscar woke me up and asked me if I had heard it,” Taylor said, noting that the noise had probably been generated by a passing storm. “He got up with his gun and walked out of the room.”

Taylor, who broke into sobs twice during her testimony, also said there had been “one or two” other occasions when Pistorius woke her after hearing noises during the night.

The testimony contrasts with a Pistorius bail hearing affidavit in which he said he did not check whether Steenkamp was still in the bed before going into the bathroom to confront the supposed intruder on the night he shot her.

Pistorius had his lower legs amputated as a baby but went on to achieve international fame as the “fastest man on no legs”, running on carbon-fiber prosthetic limbs.

Dubbed the “Blade Runner” for his stunning Paralympic performances, he ascended to the pantheon of track greats at the 2012 London Olympics when he reached the 400 meters semi-final competing against able-bodied athletes.

With good looks and an easy smile, he was a sponsors’ dream, but since Steenkamp’s killing the accounts of his behavior have revealed a dark side to his carefully groomed media persona.

The trial resumes at 0730 GMT on Monday.

(Additional reporting by Kenichi Serino; Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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 Thursday Mar 6, 2014 11:04am EST

(Reuters) – One of the first people on the scene after Oscar Pistorius shot girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp told a court on Thursday he feared the Olympic and Paralympic star, now on trial for murder, might kill himself with the same gun.

Testifying on the fourth day of the trial, neighbor Johan Stipp said he entered the athlete’s home, minutes after hearing screams and shots, to find the distraught South African sprinter kneeling over the lifeless body of a woman.

“I shot her. I thought she was a burglar and I shot her,” Stipp quoted the 27-year-old Pistorius as saying.

Stipp, a doctor, went on to describe his futile attempts to revive Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model and law graduate who had been dating Pistorius for a few months.

She died after being hit by three rounds, including one to the head, out of four fired by Pistorius through the locked door of an upstairs toilet. He denies murder, arguing that he made a tragic mistake after mistaking her for an intruder on Valentine’s Day last year.

As Stipp checked Steenkamp for signs of life, Pistorius was begging him to save her life, Stipp told the court.

“Oscar was crying all the time. He prayed to God: ‘Please let her live, she must not die,’” he said.

At one point when Pistorius left Steenkamp, Stipp and housing complex manager Johan Stander to go upstairs, Stipp thought the athlete might be about to kill himself.

“I noticed that Oscar was going upstairs and I asked Mr. Stander if he knew where the gun was because it was obvious that Oscar was emotionally very, very upset,” he said.

“I didn’t know the situation in the house so I thought maybe he was going to hurt himself.”

SLUMPED IN THE DOCK

During Stipp’s graphic testimony, including his assessment that Steenkamp was “mortally wounded”, Pistorius sat slumped in the dock, his head bowed and his hands covering his ears.

Pistorius had his lower legs amputated as a baby but went on to achieve international fame as the “fastest man on no legs”, running on carbon-fiber prosthetic limbs.

Already one of the best-known Paralympic athletes, he ascended to the pantheon of track greats at the 2012 London Olympics when he reached the 400 meters semi-final, competing against able-bodied athletes.

With rugged good looks and an easy smile, he was a sponsors’ dream, but since he shot Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year a different side to his carefully-groomed media persona has emerged.

On Wednesday, the court heard how Pistorius had accidentally fired a pistol under the table in a packed restaurant – right next to a child – and then asked a friend to take the blame.

The prosecution has used the incident to portray an image of Pistorius as a gun-obsessed hothead. If found guilty of intentional murder, Pistorius is likely to spend at least 25 years behind bars.

Other witnesses have testified to hearing a woman’s terrified screams in the house before and during the volley of shots.

(Additional reporting by Lynette Ndabambi; Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Andrew Roche)

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Wednesday, March 5, 2014 1:06pm EST

(Reuters) – “Blade Runner” Oscar Pistorius told a friend to take the blame for him accidentally firing a pistol under the table in a packed Johannesburg restaurant in January 2013, a month before he killed his girlfriend, his murder trial heard on Wednesday.

Testifying at the trial of the South African Olympic and Paralympic track star, professional boxer Kevin Lerena described how he, Pistorius and two others had been having dinner at Tashas restaurant when the gun went off.

The charge of firing a gun in a public place is part of prosecution attempts to portray the 27-year-old athlete, who shot dead model Reeva Steenkamp on February 14 last year, as a firearms-obsessed hot-head.

Pistorius denies murdering Steenkamp, saying he fired four rounds from a 9 mm pistol through a locked toilet door at his luxury Pretoria home after mistaking her for an intruder.

Lerena, who goes by the ring name “The KO Kid”, said one of the group at the table in Tashas, Darren Fresco, passed his pistol under the table to Pistorius during the lunch, telling him there was “one up”, indicating a round was in the chamber.

“A shot went off. Then there was just complete silence,” Lerena said. “I looked down at the floor and exactly where I looked down, where my foot was, there was a hole in the floor.”

“I had a little graze on my toe, but I wasn’t hurt,” he added.

Restaurant owner Jason Loupis told the court 220 diners had been present at the time. A child was sitting at the table next to Pistorius, his wife Maria added in her testimony.

“TAKE THE BLAME”

Pistorius immediately apologized to his friends and checked they had not been hurt, but then turned to Fresco and asked him to take responsibility, Lerena said.

“‘Please take the blame for me – there’s too much media hype around me’,” Lerena quoted Pistorius as saying. “‘Take the blame because this can be big.’”

When the restaurant owners came up to investigate, Fresco told them the gun had fallen out of the pocket of his tracksuit trousers.

“I said to him ‘What’s the first rule of owning a gun? Safety first?’” Maria Loupis said. “He said ‘Yes’ and I hit him over the head.”

Pistorius paid the bill and the group left, she added.

At the Pretoria High Court, Pistorius’ defense team wound up its cross-examination of a third prosecution witness who said he had heard shouts and screams from Pistorius’ house before shots were fired on the night Steenkamp died.

Earlier, lead defense advocate Barry Roux tried to undermine the testimony of wife and husband Michelle Burger and Charl Johnson, who lived 177 meters (195 yards) away in an adjacent housing complex, as being too similar to be credible.

“You could just as well have stood together in the witness box,” he said, earning his second rebuke of the three-day-old trial from Judge Thokozile Masipa.

Besides denying murder, Pistorius, who had his disabled lower legs amputated as a baby and now runs on carbon fiber prosthetic “blades”, has pleaded not guilty to the Tashas gun charge.

He is also accused of putting a bullet through the sun roof of a former girlfriend’s car in a separate incident.

The trial is being broadcast daily on live television, a first for South Africa, although most witnesses have asked for their faces not to be shown to protect their identity.

Johnson, the neighbor, said on Wednesday he had received “intimidating” phone calls the previous night from people who had heard his phone number read out in court during his wife’s earlier cross-examination.

(Additional reporting by Lynette Ndabambi and Ed Cropley,; Writing by Ed Cropley, Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Angus MacSwan)

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Tue Mar 4, 2014 11:47am EST

(Reuters) – Oscar Pistorius buried his head in his hands and wiped away tears after a South African court on Tuesday heard grisly details of the killing of his girlfriend, the first sign of emotion from the track star in his two-day murder trial.

The Olympian and Paralympian has been largely impassive during the trial for the murder of model and law graduate Reeva Steenkamp in his suburban Pretoria home on Valentine’s Day last year. Pistorius has pled not guilty, saying he shot Steenkamp through a toilet door after mistaking her for an intruder.

He leaned forward in the dock and clasped his head between his hands as lead defense lawyer Barry Roux read out details from the post mortem, including that “some fragments of the bullet” were removed from the 29-year-old’s head.

Roux also heaped scorn on the testimony of neighbor Michelle Burger, who said she heard a scream fade away after the shots, saying that Steenkamp would have “dropped immediately” due to a bullet in the head.

Steenkamp was declared dead at the scene after being hit in the head, arm and hip from three bullets from a 9 mm pistol.

Pistorius, dressed a dark suit and tie, later appeared to wipe away tears.

The trial, which could see one of global sports’ most admired figures jailed for life, has drawn comparisons with the high-profile murder trial of American football star and actor O.J. Simpson two decades ago.

Burger broke toward the end of her own testimony, following an angry exchange with Roux, who had sought to show she had mistaken the screams of agitated Pistorius for that of a woman.

The court also heard from a another neighbor, Estelle van der Merwe, who testified that she heard what sounded like an argument early on the morning Steenkamp was killed.

“From where I was sitting it seemed like two people were having an argument but I couldn’t hear the other person’s voice,” she said through an Afrikaans language interpreter.

MEDIA WARNING

The judge also warned the media to behave after a local television station leaked a photo of the state’s first witness, who had asked that her image not be broadcast, another delay to a trial that has already been hampered by late starts and problems with court interpreters.

Judge Thokozile Masipa ordered an investigation after broadcaster eNCA showed a photo of Burger during the audio broadcast of her second day of emotional testimony.

While the trial is being televised live, a previous court order had ruled witnesses must give their consent to be filmed.

Burger, a university lecturer who testified on Monday that she heard “bloodcurdling” screams from a woman followed by gun shots, had not consented to being filmed and only the audio of her testimony was being broadcast.

The station accompanied the audio feed of her testimony on Tuesday with a picture of her. After prosecutor Gerrie Nel pointed out the leak, Masipa called for a brief adjournment.

“I am warning the media, if you do not behave, you are not going to be treated with soft gloves by this court,” Masipa, herself a former journalist, said when the court resumed.

The station’s head of news apologized, saying in a statement it was a “bad judgment call” to use the photo.

Masipa has also restricted the media from publishing photos of witnesses who have not consented to be filmed.

A separate South African court ruled last month that the trial should be televised, saying it was vital for impoverished South Africans who feel ill-treated by the justice system to get a first-hand look at the proceedings.

The start of the trial was delayed by 90 minutes on Monday due to a problem with the Afrikaans language interpreter. Burger began her testimony in Afrikaans but later switched to English after disagreeing with the interpreter’s translation of some words.