PRETORIA, South Africa — As the girlfriend he shot lay dead or dying in his home, a weeping, praying Oscar Pistorius knelt at her side and struggled in vain to help her breathe by holding two fingers in her clenched mouth, a witness testified Thursday at the double-amputee runner’s murder trial.
’”I shot her. I thought she was a burglar. I shot her,’”radiologist Johan Stipp recalled Pistorius saying.
A few minutes later, Stipp said, Pistorius went upstairs — the area where he had shot Reeva Steenkamp — and then returned. At that point, Stipp said he was concerned that the gun used in the shooting had not been recovered and that a distraught Pistorius was going to harm himself. The testimony did not address what Pistorius did when he went upstairs.
The testimony in a provincial court was the first detailed, public description of the immediate aftermath of the shooting of Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model, by the Paralympic champion in the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 14 — Valentine’s Day — last year.
“It was obvious that she was mortally wounded,” Stipp said as he described what he saw at Pistorius’ villa.
“At the bottom of the stairs ... there was a lady lying on her back on the floor,” he testified.
Sitting on a courtroom bench, Pistorius bent forward and put his hand over his face, then moved them to cover both ears, as Stipp spoke. He stayed that way for a while, even when one of his lawyers reached back and, in a gesture of reassurance, touched him on the head.
“I went near her and as I bent down, I also noticed a man on the left kneeling by her side,” Stipp said under questioning by prosecutor Gerrie Nel. “He had his left hand on her right groin, and his right hand, the second and third fingers in her mouth.”
Stipp, who said he didn’t know that man was Pistorius until later, said he tried to help but Steenkamp showed no signs of life. Stipp said he noticed a wound in her right thigh, in her upper arm and in the right side of the head, and there was brain tissue around the skull.
Pistorius is charged with shooting Steenkamp three times out of four shots through a toilet door in his home. Prosecutors said the athlete intentionally killed Steenkamp after an argument, but Pistorius says it was a mistake and he thought she was an intruder.
“She had no pulse in the neck, she had no peripheral pulse. She had no breathing movements that she made,” Stipp said.
“Oscar was crying all the time,” he said. “He was praying to God, ‘Please let her live.’”
“Oscar said he would dedicate “his life and her life to God” if she would live, according to Stipp.
Pistorius, who ran at the 2012 Olympics on his prosthetic legs and who was known as the Blade Runner, is charged with premeditated murder.
Pistorius’ lead defense lawyer started the fourth day of the trial by cross-examining another neighbor and questioning whether the man heard a woman screaming and then gunshots on the night Steenkamp died.
The neighbor, Charl Johnson, said he also owned a gun, a 9mm pistol, and knew what gunfire sounded like.
“I can confidently say I heard gunshots,” Johnson insisted on cross-examination by Barry Roux. Later, Johnson said: “I’m convinced that I heard a lady’s voice.”
Roux says the banging sounds were actually Pistorius hitting a toilet door with a cricket bat and the screaming was the distressed athlete calling for help — and there were no sounds from Steenkamp who had been shot in the head.
The sequence of events soon after 3 a.m. on the morning of Feb. 14 last year is a critical aspect of the case. Prosecutors say there was a loud argument between Pistorius and Steenkamp before the shooting. Pistorius says there was no argument and that he had thought Steenkamp was in bed when he fired through the locked toilet stall door.
Gerald Imray is on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP