The seventh witness in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial provided emotive and at times gruesome testimony Thursday on the double-amputee runner’s distraught actions and the fatal injuries of his girlfriend immediately after she had been shot three times – once in the head – on Valentine’s Day last year.
Johan Stipp, a doctor, neighbor and one of the first responders on the scene, said he found Pistorius desperately trying to help Reeva Steenkamp after carrying her downstairs from the bathroom where he shot her. The star athlete claims the shooting was a mistake. Stipp said “it was obvious that she was mortally wounded.”
A look at the fourth day of the trial:
DYING OR DEAD?
In measured tones and describing specific details, Stipp testified about what he saw when he arrived at Pistorius’ villa soon after the shooting.
He said a man, who he didn’t know was Pistorius at the time, was kneeling next to a woman holding one hand on her right groin and another with two fingers in her mouth in an attempt to help her breathe. Using his medical training as a radiologist, Stipp said he also tried to help, but knew Steenkamp was “mortally wounded” and there were no signs of life that he could see.
Stipp said there was an injury to Steenkamp’s head, “brain tissue” was showing, she had no pulse and her pupil was fixed and dilated, and the cornea was “already drying out.”
Pistorius has claimed that Steenkamp was still alive when he carried her downstairs after accidentally shooting her through a toilet door. Prosecutors may be suggesting through parts of Stipp’s testimony that she died earlier.
As Stipp recounted those moments, Pistorius, sitting on a wooden bench a few feet away in court, held his right hand over his eyes and shook a little. He then moved his hands to cover both ears and kept them there for a while. The reaction will be closely scrutinized for signs of Pistorius’ intentions in those pre-dawn hours a year ago.
Stipp also identified Steenkamp by observing a court exhibit – possibly a post-mortem photo – that reporters weren’t allowed to see.
“Yes, that is the lady I tried to assist,” he said.
Soon after Stipp finished with the details of what might have been Steenkamp’s last moments alive, Pistorius appeared to regain his composure and look up and follow the proceedings.
Stipp also testified to hearing a woman screaming before and during the sounds of what he called gunshots coming from Pistorius’ home that night. Stipp lives in a house behind and across a road from the villa where Steenkamp was killed.
Testifying to a woman screaming at the time of those gunshots, he appeared to back up two other prosecution witnesses who say they heard the same. Pistorius’ lawyer, Barry Roux, says they are all mistaken and what they heard was actually Pistorius screaming in a high-pitched voice and then hitting the locked toilet door with a cricket bat to reach Steenkamp. Roux says he can prove that through a combination of expert evidence and phone records.
THE 2 `VOLLEYS’
Gunshots or the bangs of a bat on the door? It’s critical. When witnesses say they heard a woman screaming before and during gunshots, Roux is arguing throughout that the sounds were Pistorius shrieking for help and then breaking open the toilet door.
Roux appeared to gain some momentum for Pistorius’ case Thursday when Stipp testified to hearing two distinct volleys of gunfire. Roux said there was only one volley and four shots and hinted if this witness confused the sound of a bat on a door with gunfire, others could have too.
MOVEMENT IN THE WINDOW
Stipp said he saw movement and light in the window of the bathroom in Pistorius’ house around the time of what he thought was screaming and gunshots, and said it was a person moving from “the right to the left” as he observed from his own house. Defense lawyer Roux was cross-examining Stipp on the issue when the judge adjourned court for the day, and the significance may emerge Friday.