Oscar Pistorius murder trial: Security guard, lawyer clash over phone calls

Posted at 5:42 AM, Mar 10, 2014
and last updated 2014-03-10 07:42:03-04

By Richard Allen Greene

PRETORIA, South Africa (CNN) — The second week of the Oscar Pistorius murder trial opened Monday with his defense lawyers going on the attack by challenging a security guard’s statements about what happened the night the track star fatally shot his girlfriend, cover girl Reeva Steenkamp.

Defense lawyer Barry Roux said Pistorius called the phone at 3:21 a.m. on Valentine’s Day 2013 but the track star couldn’t speak because he was just crying. Security guard Pieter Baba agreed.

Roux said Pistorius made the next phone call to security, but Baba insisted he made the call. They also disagreed on what Pistorius said — or what he meant.

Baba said Pistorius told him “everything is fine,” but Roux said Pistorius was saying that he, Pistorius, was fine.

On Friday, Baba said he could hear Pistorius was crying and he knew everything was not fine.

Baba arrived at the house in time to witness Pistorius coming down the stairs carrying Steenkamp.

“I was so shocked, I couldn’t think for a few moments,” Baba testified.

Pistorius has pleaded not guilty to one charge of murder and a firearms charge associated with Steenkamp’s killing on Valentine’s Day 2013 as well as two gun indictments unrelated to her death.

Pistorius, 27, has admitted killing his 29-year-old girlfriend, but says it was a tragic error after he mistook her for an intruder.

Gun by his bedside

Another witness who testified Friday, former Pistorius girlfriend Samantha Taylor, said their relationship ended when he cheated on her with Steenkamp.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel asked Taylor if she was ever at Pistorius’ house when he thought there was an intruder. Taylor said yes.

Taylor said Pistorius once heard something hit the bathroom window and woke her up to ask if she’d heard it, too, before taking his gun and going to investigate. Taylor said Pistorius woke her up other times when he thought he’d heard a noise.

Taylor also testified that Pistorius slept with a pistol on his bedside table or on the floor beside his prosthetic legs and once became so angry after a traffic stop that he shot a gun through the sunroof of a car.

Taylor said she met Pistorius in 2010, when she was 17, and they started dating the following year. She said they broke up twice, the second time on November 4, 2012, after he took Steenkamp to a sports banquet.

Defense attorney Barry Roux asked if Taylor admitted in two e-mails to cheating on Pistorius. Taylor says she’s never admitted to cheating on him but admits she had a relationship with another man after they broke up the first time.

Roux also asked Taylor for details about the time he supposedly shot the gun out of a car sunroof, but Taylor could not remember the name of the highway or the location in South Africa.

Taylor testified that Pistorius was angry and irritated after the traffic stop, even though he was not driving. She said he joked around about firing a shot and then laughed after he fired.

Finding inconsistencies

Nel put four neighbors of Pistorius on the stand during the first week of the trial, all of whom described hearing screaming and loud bangs they thought were gunshots the night of the killing.

Roux then tried to find inconsistencies or uncertainty in their stories. The defense goal is to prove there is a reasonable doubt about the guilt of the accused.

One of the most dramatic witnesses was a neighbor, Johan Stipp, who rushed to the track star’s home the night he shot Steenkamp.

Pistorius broke down in court Thursday as Stipp said said he saw Steenkamp lying on the floor, her brain tissue mixed with blood and Pistorius praying for her to live.

“I remember the first thing he said when I got there was, ‘I shot her, I thought she was a burglar and I shot her,’ ” Stipp told the court in Pretoria.

Although Stipp is a prosecution witness, his testimony may bolster the defense case, CNN legal analyst Kelly Phelps said after Thursday’s gripping testimony.

Prosecutors appear to have been trying to demonstrate that Pistorius and Steenkamp had a loud argument before the shooting, suggesting it’s the reason he killed her.

But the defense is proposing that what neighbors thought was Steenkamp screaming in fear for her life was in fact Pistorius when he realized what he had done.

Pistorius and at least two neighbors made phone calls to security after the shooting, allowing the defense to use phone records to establish a timeline of events.

Stipp’s version of events appears to coincide with the defense case, said Phelps, who teaches law at the University of Cape Town.

Steenkamp’s screams?

Stipp on Thursday described the grisly scenes when he tried to save the athlete’s girlfriend after the fatal shooting.

He said he had arrived and found Steenkamp’s body lying at the bottom of the stairs. Pistorius was bent over her body with his left hand over her right groin and two fingers of his right hand in her mouth as he tried to clear her airway.

Stipp tried to assist and said he found no signs of a pulse in her neck, no peripheral pulse and no breathing movements.

As the doctor described the details of her injuries to the court, Pistorius broke down with his head in his hands. He was also seen convulsing but then recovered and wiped his face and nose with a handkerchief.

The doctor was later cross-examined by defense attorney Roux, who said Steenkamp could not have been the one screaming at the time Stipp heard the cries of a woman out of her mind with fear.

Roux had consulted three specialists and the autopsy and asked Stipp: “That person after the shots would not have been able to scream. That person would be nonresponsive; does that make sense to you as a medical doctor?”

“It does,” Stipp replied.

The prosecution interjected, saying Steenkamp could have screamed after the first shot. Earlier in the week, Nel, the prosecutor, reading a report from an expert, told the court that of the four bullets fired toward Steenkamp “the fourth bullet hit her in the head. She then died.”

Pistorius sat impassively during the exchange between Roux and Stipp. He leaned forward, his head down in his hand, as his attorney asked Stipp if the athlete had wanted Steenkamp to live.

“He definitely wanted her to live, yes,” Stipp replied. “He looked sincere to me. He was crying; there were tears on his face.”

After the court later adjourned, Pistorius was in tears as his sister consoled him. She wrapped an arm around his shoulders and held him close while the room emptied out Thursday.

Trial may last three weeks

Judge Thokozile Matilda Masipa will decide whether Pistorius is innocent or guilty. South Africa does not have jury trials.

In South Africa, premeditated murder carries a mandatory life sentence, with a minimum of 25 years. Pistorius also could get five years for each gun indictment and 15 years for the firearms charge.

If he isn’t convicted of premeditated murder, the sprinter could face a lesser charge of culpable homicide, a crime based on negligence, and could be looking at up to 15 years on that charge, experts said.

The trial is expected to take at least three weeks.

Pistorius and Steenkamp were a young, attractive, high-profile couple popular in South Africa’s social circles.

Pistorius, whose “Blade Runner” nickname reflects the special prostheses he uses while running, won six Paralympic gold medals and became the first double-amputee runner to compete in the Olympics, in London in 2012.

Steenkamp, a model who was soon to star in a TV reality show, was on the cusp of becoming a celebrity in her own right at the time of her death.

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