Expert: Screaming gives Pistorius ‘major problem’


JOHANNESBURG — Prosecutors at Oscar Pistorius’ murder trial have presented a “golden thread” of evidence suggesting Reeva Steenkamp screamed before she died, leaving the double-amputee athlete with “serious questions” to answer and his defense likely hinging on his own testimony, a legal expert in South Africa said.

Three neighbors say they heard a woman scream before and during the deadly gunshots coming from Pistorius’ home in the early hours of Valentine’s Day last year. The pathologist who performed the autopsy on Steenkamp’s body said it would have been “abnormal” for her not to scream from some of her injuries.

A police ballistics expert concluded that the first shot Pistorius fired through a toilet door hit Steenkamp in the hip and caused her to collapse, but didn’t immediately kill her. The second shot missed. From the policeman’s testimony, Steenkamp likely had time to yell out before she was hit by two more shots as she covered her head with her arms in a desperate attempt to protect herself.

“Suddenly what we have is Oscar Pistorius firing at Reeva Steenkamp while her hands are covering her head while she’s screaming in the toilet, and that’s murder,” said Marius du Toit, a defense lawyer and former state prosecutor who says he has worked on at least 100 murder cases.

Du Toit, who is following the trial but not involved, said the prosecution has “definitely” made a case for murder against the Olympic runner for the fatal shooting of Steenkamp, and Pistorius’ defense must now respond.

Chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel has so far presented a specific line of evidence compellingly, du Toit said. Using the accounts of neighbors and backing them up with the expert opinion of pathologist Gert Saayman and police ballistics investigator Capt. Christiaan Mangena, Nel may have shown to the court that it was “reasonable” that Steenkamp screamed during the four shots fired at her, du Toit said.

“There’s definitely a golden thread here,” du Toit told The Associated Press in a telephone interview, using a courtroom term that refers to the prosecution’s duty to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. “A golden thread of someone who was screaming and who was shot. The objective facts, which are the injuries she sustained, coupled with the expert opinion, tied with your circumstantial evidence presented by witnesses. And if that ties up with one another then Oscar has got a major problem.”

Prosecutors say they will wrap up their case next week, the fourth week of the trial, by calling four or five more witnesses. The defense will then present its case. High court authorities in Gauteng province said in a statement Sunday that the trial will be halted for the week beginning April 7, and then resume from April 14 until May 16.