Oscar Pistorius trial: defence case opens – live updates

Defence case begins in trial of Pistorius for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, with a pathologist expected to take the stand.

There are no photographs of Pistorius in the witness stand. That is down to the same court rules which mean he is also not being shown on the video feed.

Pistorius is now talking through the rapid progress of the Paralympic running career, and how in parallel he was one of South Africa’s top 400m runners in able-bodied events. This led to a lengthy legal battle ahead of the 2008 Olympics to prove his prosthetic legs did not offer an unfair advantage. He won the case, but too late to qualify for the Beijing Games, which he says was a major blow.

But by 2011 he was running in the able-bodied world championships, and raced at the 2012 London Olympics.

Here is a more full quote of the tearful apology to Steenkamp’s family with which he began his evidence:

I want to apologise to Reeva’s family, to those of you who knew her and are here today. There is not a moment and there hasn’t been a moment since this tragedy happened that I haven’t thought about your family.

I wake up in the morning and you’re the first people I think of, the first people I pray for. I can promise that when she went to bed that night she felt loved.

As a reminder, David Smith, in court, is live tweeting this evidence.

#Pistorius: "My family always believed in standing up for yourself and what you believed in."

After his mother’s death, Pistorius says, weekends and holidays from boarding school were slightly chaotic, with he and his siblings staying with a variety of friends and family members. They stayed rarely with his father, who had divorced from his mother.

Pistorius is now being asked about the effect of his mother’s sudden death, when he was a teenager. He says, his voice shaking again:

We spent all our time with her. Everything I learned in life I learned from her.

After trying out running at a disabled event, Pistorius says, he went to America to train as a Paralympian, and then joined the South African team, later taking part in elite able bodied 400m races.

At high school, when he was a boarder, Pistorius says, he was "never much of an academic" but loved sport. He began playing rugby and water polo but then moved over to athletics.

Pistorius says he tried and enjoyed sport at primary school:

I wasn’t very good at most of them but I tried them all.

Still more on his childhood. Pistorius says he was very occasionally bullied for his disability at school, but his mother made him feel he should stand up for himself.

Pistorius, whose voice is still shaky but now slightly more composed, is explaining how he was born without fibula bones in his legs, and had both legs partially amputated when he was 11 months old. Seven months later he was walking, he says. His mother never made him feel any different with his disability, he adds.

Pistorius, who we cannot see on the video feed, is giving some background about his family life, led along by Roux, his defence counsel. He discusses his great closeness to his mother, who died when he was 15.

Pistorius says he often calls his sister, who lives nearby, to sit with him during the night. On one occasion he climbed into a cupboard to call her, he says. His voice is very shaky.

He says he never wants to touch a firearm again, and does not want to be near one.

Pistorius now explains that since the shooting he has taken anti-depressants and sleeping pills. He finds it hard to sleep.

I am scared to sleep… I have terrible nightmares about what happened that night. I wake up and I can smell blood.

Pistorius starts with an apology, in a breaking voice:

I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to Mr and Mrs Steenkamp, to Reeva’s family, to those of you who knew her and are here today.

Pistorius is sworn in by the judge. He sounds close to tears, his voice breaking.

Oscar Pistorius is called to give evidence.

That’s it for Prof Botha. He is excused by the judge. Pistorius is called.

More disturbing autopsy images flash up on screens for a moment before Roux orders them to be switched off. #Pistorius

There is an intermittent live feed though not, sadly, on this page and it seems Nel is still quizzing Botha in detail about the sequence of shots. This is, of course, vital as it could determine whether or not Steenkamp called out in fear between shots. If she did it would greatly undermine Pistorius’s defence that he thought he was shooting at an intruder.

The live feed has broken again, so I’m afraid there will be another delay in any updates.

Botha is being questioned about how he was able to determine the chronological sequence of the bullet wounds suffered by Steenkamp. Pistorius appears to find all this very hard to listen to.

#Pistorius still leaning forward with hands wrapped around head as if trying to block out the sound.

I have a video link again. Botha is still being cross-examined. At the moment, it’s worth mentioning, we still don’t know if Pistorius will begin his evidence today.

The live video feed has now completely stopped. David Smith, in court, tweets this.

Court shown photo of Steenkamp’s head wounds with blood and tissue visible. Someone in public gallery whispers, "Oh god!" #Pistorius

The live video feed of the hearing is not working very well, so my updates might be a bit patchy till it starts working properly again.

More from my colleague, David Smith, in court.

Trial resumes and #Pistorius again has head bowed, hands wrapped behind his neck.

The hearing has resumed. Nel is still cross-examining Prof Jan Botha, the pathologist called by the defence.

Tea adjournment. #Pistorius leans on hands on edge of dock. Three family members hug him and he cries hard and audibly.

The court is now taking a half-hour break so Nel can consult with the prosecution team. It will resume at 11.15am local time (10.15 BST).

Nel, the defence counsel, is taking a very direct, confrontational approach to picking apart Botha’s evidence. Here’s one observation:

I find it very strange I have to ask you questions three times.

Court shown close-up photo of flesh wound. #Pistorius rocking slightly back and forth, head down.

Botha’s lengthy and quite complex cross-examination continues with a discussion of which wounds blood on the toilet floor came from.

#Pistorius slumped forward again with head in hands.

Botha’s slightly testy cross-examination continues.

Botha: I’m not in any position to indicate the order of A, B, C, D shots on door. "I’m not a ballistician, I’m a pathologist." #Pistorius

Nel: "You said you know." Botha: "I never said that. I said, ‘I believe’. I’m not that presumptuous, Mr Nel." Chuckles from public gallery.

Some quick context as to Botha’s evidence. The state pathologist, Professor Gert Saayman, told the prosecution case that Steenkamp most likely ate two hours before her death at 3am, which appeared to counter Pistorius’s version that the pair had gone to bed at 10pm, meaning he was disoriented and woken from sleep when he shot her.

The defence questioning of Botha is now over, and he is being fairly rigorously cross-examined by the prosecution counsel, Gerrie Nel, largely on quite technical issues about the nature of abrasions.

Pistorius has, again, been badly affected by evidence about Steenkamp’s injuries and death.

Botha: "Shots could have been discharged in the space of four seconds. I think it’s highly unlikely she would have been able to call out."

Botha: "Before she was in a position to react, the remaining bullets would have struck her." #Pistorius retching in the dock again.

Botha is now describing the effect of the gunshots on Steenkamp. The shot to the hip would have caused instability, while that to the arm would have stopped the arm working, he says. The shot to the head would have caused almost instant unconsciousness. He says: "I don’t think she would have survived much longer."

It would be unlikely Steenkamp could have reacted by calling or screaming if the shots were fired in rapid succession, he says.

#Pistorius is slumped forward in dock with head in hands.

This contradicts the prosecution evidence that Steenkamp was sitting on the magazine rack when the second shot struck her, Roux notes. Botha agrees, saying he thinks the evidence points otherwise.

Roux is now taking Botha onto the issue of wound ballistics. The pathologist is asked if he can ascertain the chronology of the shots which struck Steenkamp, and replies that he believes he can.

Botha says the first shot was the one over the right hip, which happened when Steenkamp was standing near the door. This was also the prosecution’s opinion. She then fell forward and was struck on the right arm by a second shot, Botha says.

As those who are watching the live video feed will have noted, Prof Botha is not being pictured giving evidence all the images are of other sections of the court, mainly Roux and the judge, plus occasional cutaways to Pistorius. That would appear to indicate that when Pistorius himself takes the stand we might only hear his voice, and not see him in the stand.

A quick note: my colleague, David Smith, is at today’s hearing, and is live tweeting the evidence, as here.

Botha on emptying of stomach after meal: "The modern consensus is it is a highly controversial and inexact science." #Pistorius

Botha tells the court he has conducted thousands of post mortem examinations where people have been shot. He is now being asked by Roux about the physical phenomenon called gastric emptying, as a way of determining the time between a last meal and death. This was cited by Prof Gert Saayman, who performed the post mortem on Reeva Steenkamp and spoke as a prosecution witness, and said Steenkamp could have eaten her last meal about two hours before her death.

Botha, however, says it is an inexact procedure, with all sorts of factors which can change the process, and thus affect calculations of time of death. It is so imprecise as to effectively be "speculation", Botha says.

Pisorius’s defence counsel, Barry Roux, is talking Botha through his qualifications and experience as a pathologist, which are extensive.

The hearing has opened. My video feed is a bit patchy, and it began part-way through the opening statement. Prof Botha is being called. Judge Thokozile Masipa asks if there are any objections to his being the first defence witnesses. There are not and he is sworn in.

While we await the start of proceedings, here is a piece by Sandile Memela for the Guardian Africa network, which asks the question: had Pistorius killed a black man, would it be an issue?

I don’t think so. I believe there wouldnt have been a trial. Instead, he would have been hailed as a hero: Here is a man who did good by shooting to kill a black thief!

Everyone would have understood and accepted that crime has reached intolerable levels in our society. The perpetrators are often black men who are unemployed and poor. And they deserve to be shot down in cold blood for disturbing the peace of suburban life?

You will, of course, see that we have a live video feed of today’s hearing at the top of the page. It’s currently showing the outside of the courtroom, but will move inside once proceedings begin.

My colleague, David Smith, has previewed today’s hearing, and what we can possibly expected from the first defence evidence:

Pistorius will be back in the glare of the world’s media when his murder trial resumes on Monday but, in an unorthodox legal move, he will not be the first witness for his own defence…

Instead he is expected to follow Prof Jan Botha, a pathologist, on the stand at the high court in Pretoria…

Today the trial of Oscar Pistorius, the South African Paralympic and Olympic runner, for the alleged murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, enters a new and crucial phase with the opening of the 27-year-old’s defence case.

We had 15 days of prosecution testimony up to 28 March, after which the trial was postponed today, due to the illness of a judge’s assistant.

Continue reading…

Link to article: feeds.theguardian.com/c/34708/f/663879/s/39107249/sc/8/l/0L0Stheguardian0N0Cworld0C20A140Capr0C0A70Coscar0Epistorius0Etrial0Edefence0Ecase0Eopens0Elive0Eupdates/story01.htm

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