A renown South African pathologist said it would have been “abnormal” for Reeva Steenkamp not to scream while she was being shot, provided she had not yet received the head wound that knocked her out.
This court testimony by Gert Saayman is crucial to the case against Paralympian star runner Oscar Pistorius, who is on trial for murdering his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day 2013. Saayman said Steenkamp would have been able to “rationally conduct” herself, despite other wounds, until her boyfriend shot her in the head.
A major point of contention in the trial will be the order in which the bullets Pistorius fired hit Steenkamp, as prosecution witnesses have insisted they heard a female screaming prior and during the shots they heard.
The athlete, in his account of events, was adamant that Steenkamp made no verbal sound while she was behind the locked toilet door, so he mistook her for an intruder.
If she received the gunshot wounds in her right arm and right hip before her head wound, she would have been filled with anxiety and fear, but still would have been mentally acute, Saayman told the court during cross-examination Tuesday.
The forensic expert, who has been involved with more than 10,000 autopsies, described the head shot as being “in its own league,” saying it would have caused immediate incapacitation and loss of cognitive function.
After an emotional start to the week, during which he repeatedly vomited after hearing Steenkamp’s autopsy report, Pistorius remained composed in the dock Tuesday, in a dark suit and metal-framed glasses, as Saayman continued on the witness stand.
The pathologist’s testimony also shed more light on the sequence of events, which raises some damaging questions Pistorius’ defense team will need to address.
During his initial testimony Monday, Saayman described the matching bullet hole in Steenkamp’s hip and the grey shorts she was wearing, suggesting she was clothed in the locked toilet. Saayman also estimated the time of her last meal as two hours before death, or around 1 a.m.–a direct contradiction with Pistorius’ account of the evening that they had eaten a quiet dinner at home and gone to bed around 10 p.m.
Despite his best efforts, defense attorney Barry Roux did not manage to shake the pathologist’s position or his confidence. Saayman insisted that based on his career’s experience and 30 years of continuous reading on the subject, his estimates were accurate.
The defense noted that Steenkamp’s bladder only contained a “teaspoon” of urine, consistent with her going to the toilet to relieve herself. But Saayman pointed out that the same situation could be possible, in physiological terms, if she had been awake within an hour of her death.