Prosecutors in Oscar Pistorius’ murder trial have dropped their assertion that the double-amputee Olympian was wearing his prosthetic legs when he shot girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in the early hours of Valentine’s Day last year, losing a key part of their argument that the killing was premeditated.
A look at five things we now know about the circumstances of the shooting after a week-and-a-half of testimony in Pistorius’ gripping – and at times intricate – trial:
SHOOTING ON STUMPS, DEFINITELY
Lead prosecutor Gerrie Nel said Wednesday that it was no longer part of the state’s case that Pistorius was wearing his prosthetics when he shot four times at Steenkamp through a locked toilet door in his home, killing her. In the initial stages of the investigation, prosecutors said Pistorius was wearing his prosthetics when he shot. They asserted that by taking the time to put on his legs before going to the bathroom, Pistorius showed premeditation before killing the 29-year-old model. The argument was criticized at the time by legal experts.
Nel’s concession Wednesday was the same day a forensic analyst working for the police and testifying at the trial concluded that from the height of the bullet holes in the door, Pistorius most probably shot on his stumps, as he has always said. Pistorius says he feared there was a dangerous intruder behind the door.
SHOTS BEFORE BAT
The forensic analyst, Col. J.G. Vermeulen, also indicated that the shots that killed Steenkamp were likely fired before the door was bashed in by a cricket bat. Again, this matches part of Pistorius’ story. In the first week of the trial, it was uncertain if the prosecution might try to show that the blows on the door came before the gunshots, suggesting an angry Pistorius was trying to get at his frightened girlfriend in the toilet before ultimately shooting her.
PROSECUTORS CHALLENGE BAT STORY
Prosecutors did, however, challenge Pistorius’ version that he was wearing his prosthetics when he hit the door with the bat after fatally shooting Steenkamp in the head, right hip and right arm. The bullet-marked wood door was brought to the courtroom and erected, with a replica of the toilet cubicle where Steenkamp was shot recreated behind it. The exhibit even had a toilet bowl.
After removing his jacket, forensic expert Vermeulen got down on his knees in court and swung Pistorius’ bat to show the height which he believed the disabled runner was standing when he hit the door. Vermeulen pointed out two bat marks low down which he said suggested that Pistorius was on his stumps, with prosecutors trying to show an inconsistency in Pistorius’ version of events. Pistorius says he went back to put his prosthetics on after shooting Steenkamp and his defense lawyer challenged Vermeulen on his findings.
More than ever, it’s clear that the forensic and ballistic evidence will be crucial in the case. If prosecutors can prove that parts of Pistorius’ story are not true then it casts doubt on his entire claim that the killing of Steenkamp was accidental. Lead defense lawyer Barry Roux spent much of Wednesday questioning and criticizing the police department’s forensic investigation into the circumstances of Steenkamp’s death, and said Pistorius’ own specialists will show his version to be true. For one, Roux pointed out that police had missed a sock fabric embedded in the door, which the lawyer said was consistent with Pistorius’ story that he initially tried to kick it down to help Steenkamp before giving up and using the cricket bat.
METAL PANEL SURPRISE
Prosecutors showed a photo in court of a metal panel on the wall of Pistorius’ bathroom that had been bashed in. It was new evidence and had not been mentioned by either side before. The prosecution contends there was a fight between Pistorius and Steenkamp before the world-famous runner angrily shot his girlfriend after 3 a.m. on Feb. 14 last year.