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Steenkamp was in ‘defensive position’ when she was shot by Pistorius, trial hears

Oscar Pistorius listens to cross questioning in court of his murder trial in Pretoria, South Africa, Monday, March 17, 2014. Pistorius is on trial for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day, 2013.

Siphiwe Sibeko/AP

Follow The Globe and Mail's Africa correspondent Geoffrey York as he tweets from Oscar Pistorius' murder trial.

Reeva Steenkamp tried to protect herself in a "defensive position" with her hands crossed above her head as Oscar Pistorius shot her through a bathroom door, a police ballistics expert has testified.

The expert, Captain Chris Mangena, gave the first detailed explanation of how Ms. Steenkamp collapsed to the floor as she was hit by three hollow-point "Black Talon" bullets fired by Mr. Pistorius on Valentine's Day last year.

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He said she was standing up, facing the door, when she was hit on the hip by the first bullet fired by Mr. Pistorius through the door. She fell into a semi-seating position on a magazine rack, where she was hit by two more bullets as she adopted a defensive position, Capt. Mangena said. She finally ending up on the floor with her head on the toilet, he said.

Another bullet hit a tiled bathroom wall and ricocheted back, and it was probably responsible for the bruising that was found on Ms. Steenkamp's back, Capt. Mangena testified on Wednesday.

Capt. Mangena said it was not possible for Ms. Steenkamp to be hit by four rapid gunshots, as Mr. Pistorius has claimed. It is more likely that there were pauses between the shots, which would explain the pattern of the gunshot wounds, he said. Neighbours have testified that they heard a woman's screams during the shooting.

Mr. Pistorius, the "Blade Runner" who became the first double-amputee runner to compete against able-bodied athletes at the Olympics, has said he shot his girlfriend by mistake, thinking she was an intruder in his house.

The prosecutor, Gerrie Nel, announced on Wednesday that he has only four or five more witnesses to call, and he expects to wrap up his case in the early days of next week. The trial was adjourned until Monday.

The testimony on Wednesday gave a harrowing portrait of Ms. Steenkamp's final moments of life as she realized that Mr. Pistorius was shooting through the bathroom door.

When the final bullet hit Ms. Steenkamp in the head, she "dropped immediately," Capt. Mangena said. "Her head ended up on the toilet seat," he said.

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Mr. Pistorius, in the defendant's bench, slumped forward on the bench and covered his ears with his hands as Capt. Mangena testified.

Defence lawyer Barry Roux said his own ballistics experts will testify that Ms. Steenkamp was not facing the door, but was leaning forward with her side to the door when she was hit by the first bullet.

Capt. Mangena said he concluded that Mr. Pistorius was on his stumps, not his prosthetic legs, when he fired the shots. He was between 60 centimetres and three metres from the door when he fired, Capt. Mangena said.

Capt. Mangena was also asked about two other shooting incidents in which Mr. Pistorius was allegedly involved, including an incident in which he allegedly fired his 9mm pistol through the open sunroof of a car. When a bullet is fired into the air, it returns at a speed of 80 metres per second, which is enough to kill a person, Capt. Mangena said.

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About the Author
Africa Bureau Chief

Geoffrey York is The Globe and Mail's Africa correspondent.He has been a foreign correspondent for the newspaper since 1994, including seven years as the Moscow Bureau Chief and seven years as the Beijing Bureau Chief.He is a veteran war correspondent who has covered war zones since 1992 in places such as Somalia, Sudan, Chechnya, Iraq and Afghanistan. More


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