Olympic athlete, Oscar Pistorius sobbed and repeatedly vomited into a bucket in the Pretoria High Court today while he listened to the evidence given by state pathologist, Prof. Gert Saayman who did the autopsy on Reeva Steenkamp whom he shot and killed on Valentine’s Day last year. Although given the option to leave court, Pistorius stayed to hear horrifying details of what the lethal bullets he had shot from his gun did to his gorgeous girlfriend whom he has vowed he loved. Evidence led during today’s court hearing included testimony that the bullets discharged from a 9 mm Parabellum gun were designed to cause “maximum damage” and likely kill the person being shot at.
Pistorius does not deny shooting Steenkamp through a locked toilet door in his Pretoria home last year. However he denies the charge of premeditated murder, claiming that it was a horrible mistake, and that he thought there was an intruder in the toilet, not Reeva Steenkamp.
Saayman described in detail how bullets shattered Steenkamp’s skull and body, causing devastating fatal damage. Two of the wounds, he said, would “almost certainly” have killed her, while a third might have had the same effect. The ammunition used, he said was Black Talon or Ranger, designed to cause maximum injury rather than simply “disable” a victim. He said the bullets were designed to expand and “mushroom,” and in this way cause substantial damage.
Drama in Court
Without a doubt, today, Day Six in the Oscar Pistorius trial was the most dramatic day so far. Not only was the most gory evidence of the trial presented to court, but there were also major issues in terms of how and why the case could be reported on, including the use of photographs and various social media.
Acknowledging that a “cautious approach” must be adopted with the unusual court case that has “attracted huge public and media interest,” Judge Thokozile Masipa started the day by redefining the dos and don’t of picture use and reporting. This included a ruling that no pictures of “private” witnesses, who opt not to be photographed and have their testimony broadcast, may be used for the duration of the trial, even if there are photographs freely available on the Internet. The fact that Oscar Pistorius shot his girlfriend with bullets designed for maximum damage may make such images disturbing to some viewers.
Then there was a mini hearing concerning whether or not the evidence of state pathologist Prof. Gert Saayman who did the autopsy on Reeva Steenkamp could be televised or broadcast – because it was considered to be too graphic for the “outside world.” This is the first time a trial of any sort has been allowed to be broadcast and televised live in South Africa. Strict conditions have been specified, and the presiding judge, Masipa, has the power to restrict conditions further if she believes it is necessary.
The initial request for broadcast of today’s proceedings to be disallowed came from Prof. Saayman who was adamant that live-streaming of his evidence should not be permitted. He of course knew that Oscar Pistorius had shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp with lethal bullets that were designed to kill, and he said that he wanted primarily to prevent compromising “the dignity of the deceased,” her relatives and friends, and other “vulnerable and unsuspecting people” who might be harmed in some sort of way if they were exposed to the graphic detail of the wounds he knew he was going to have to describe in court.
During the adjournment, while hundreds of media representatives from all over the world waited for clarification of whether they could publish details of the autopsy, and if so to what extent, an obviously very distraught and emotional Oscar Pistorius sat next to his sister Aimee, who hugged and comforted him. She also appeared very upset, wiping away tears and blowing her nose.
Ultimately journalists were permitted to remain in court and report in print and online media; but no live broadcasts were allowed today. Reporters in the court were also prohibited from using Twitter as a real-life immediate means of reporting the pathologist’s evidence.
Only once before has a South African judge ruled that live tweeting would not be allowed during a court case. This was when Ina Bonnette, who survived gang rape, gave evidence in the “Modimolle monster” case last year against Johan Kotze and co-accused Andries Sithole accused of killing her son Conrad. In this instance the order was to protect the “dignity rights” of the witness, which is a different issue to that in the Pistorius case. A social media legal consultant, Emma Sadleir pointed out on Twitter that in South Africa deceased persons do not have “dignity rights” – although the family does.
Sadleir, who is also an anchor for South Africa’s 24:7 Oscar Trial 199 television show has been “educating” the public on Twitter during the past week and has explained how in South African law a so-called crime of passion is called “severe emotional stress,” but since it was not pleaded by Pistorius in his affidavit, it is not an option, she says.
While the case proceeded today, journalists continued to post information about the case on Twitter, focusing mostly on the state of the accused who continued to retch and vomit into a blue bucket. It was also tweeted that there many other people who looked extremely nauseous as they listened to the graphic evidence from the state pathologist who examined the body of Reeva Steenkamp, the girlfriend Oscar Pistorius shot using lethal bullets that are designed for maximum damage.
By Penny Swift