PRETORIA, South Africa -- In the minutes after he fatally shot his girlfriend, South African Olympian Oscar Pistorius wept, prayed and begged that she would survive, according to testimony in his murder trial Thursday by a Pretoria radiologist who was one of the first people on the scene.
Pistorius, who has pleaded not guilty to the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, wept in Pretoria’s High Court as the radiologist, Dr. Johan Stipp, offered a graphic medical account of her fatal injuries and described the athlete’s distress at the time. During the testimony, Pistorius was hunched over on the court bench and at one point covered his ears, appearing to try to block out Stipp’s words.
The shooting happened in the early hours of Valentine’s Day last year. It is not contested that Pistorius shot Steenkamp through the door of the toilet in their residence, which was located off the bathroom. Pistorius has said he thought she was a burglar; prosecutors say he intended to kill her.
Stipp said that when he entered the Pistorius house, Steenkamp was lying on her back on the floor at the bottom of the stairs. Pistorius was kneeling by her side, trying to open her mouth, using his fingers, the doctor said.
At the time, Stipp said, he was not aware the man on the scene was Pistorius, the South African athlete famous for competing in the 2012 Olympics as a double amputee.
“I went near her and as I bent down, I noticed a man on his knees,” Stipp told the court.
“I remember the first thing he said: ‘I shot her. I thought she was a burglar. I shot her.’”
Stipp said he tried to save Steenkamp but that she had no pulse and was not breathing. It appeared that her injuries were fatal, he said.
“It was obvious that Mr. Pistorius was very, very upset,” Stipp said.
He was “crying all the time, ‘Please let her live, she must not die.’ He said he would dedicate his life and her life to God if she could live and not die,” Stipp told the court.
“I saw I could not do anything for her,” he said, adding that he then went out the front door, found that no one had called an ambulance and phoned for one.
Stipp, who was a neighbor of Pistorius and Steenkamp, testified that earlier that night he was sleeping with his door open and was awakened by three loud bangs that sounded like gunshots. He said he then heard what sounded like a woman screaming three or four times, and then a man call for help. Later, he said, he heard more bangs.
“The screams were very loud. She sounded anguished, scared,” Stipp told the court.
He said that after calling security guards, he decided to investigate. He said he saw that the bathroom light in the Pistorius/Steenkamp house was on and that someone appeared to be moving in there.
He said he dressed, went outside and approached the front door of the Pistorius house, where he met a private security officer. He said he told the officer he was a doctor and offered his assistance. That is when he saw Steenkamp lying on the floor and Pistorius beside her, he said.
Defense lawyer Barry Roux has argued in court that Pistorius’ screams, after shooting Steenkamp, sounded like those of a woman. He has argued that after the shots, Pistorius broke down the door to the toilet with a cricket bat.
Testimony crucial to the prosecution case has come from other neighbors, husband and wife Charl Johnson and Michelle Burger, who told the court that on the night of the killing, they heard a woman scream, a man yell for help, then shots. The screams faded just after the last shot, according to their testimony.
Roux continued cross-examining Johnson on Thursday, the fourth day of the trial, accusing him of “a design on your side to incriminate” Pistorius.
Johnson responded that he had no desire to incriminate the famed runner. He testified that he and his wife didn’t want to take sides in the case and wanted to be neutral. Initially, they did not want to get involved in such a high-profile case, he said.
“I felt a moral obligation as a witness to present a neutral version,” Johnson said, insisting that he was certain he heard a woman’s screams and shots.