Gasps of distress echoed around the courtroom at Oscar Pistorius' murder trial Wednesday as prosecutors demanded the Olympian look at a picture of the injuries his bullets left in Reeva Steenkamp’s head.
At the start of a blistering cross-examination, state lawyer Gerrie Nel showed the court a video of the double-amputee athlete shooting at a watermelon at a gun range to the sound of laughter - a legal move that took his defense team by surprise.
Pistorius admitted that he could be heard in the video describing his shot and its effect on the fruit, saying: "It’s a lot softer than brain but **** it's a zombie stopper."
“That wasn’t me laughing,” the sprinter said. “In hindsight, I am upset to hear myself saying something like that." Pistorius said the comment was not relevant to the trial because he was talking about a zombie “not a human being.”
Nel retorted: “Who else has got brains?”
There were gasps in court as Nel compared the exploding watermelon to Steenkamp's head and showed the court a picture of the horrific gunshot injuries suffered by the model.
WALDO SWIEGERS / AFP - Getty Images file
Olympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius poses next to his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. He is accused of premeditated murder after fatally shooting the model and law graduate on Feb. 14, 2013.
The photograph showed a side view of Steenkamp's head, with a mass of blood and human tissue on the back and upper parts. Her eyes were closed.
“You know that the same thing happened to Reeva’s head,” the prosecutor told Pistorius. “It exploded. It had the exact same effect. It’s time that you looked at it. Take responsibility.”
Pistrious sobbed angrily in response: "I have been waiting for my time on this stand to tell my story. I remember. I don’t have to look at a picture. I was there.”
Defense lawyer Barry Roux jumped to his feet, saying Nel’s actions were “uncalled for,” while the judge agreed to an adjournment.
During the break, prosecutors told reporters that Steenkamp’s family had been warned in advance that the gruesome image would be shown.
With Pistorius still audibly shaken by the episode, Nel resumed his cross-examination by challenging discrepancies between the athlete’s statements at his bail application and to police.
He repeatedly asked Pistorius about whether he had been on his bedroom balcony when he brought in one of two fans place there on the evening before the shooting.
As he repeatedly queried the accuracy of Pistorius’ account, he said: “You’re not answering the questions.”
“I haven’t lied,” Pistorius insisted.
“Please answer the questions, don’t argue the case,” Nel warned the athlete. “You will get into trouble.”
Earlier, Pistorius testified how he felt Steenkamp's blood "running down on me" after he discovered her bullet-ridden body in his bathroom. The sprinter insists he thought the 29-year-old law graduate was a hiding intruder when he opened fire.
"I felt helpless. I had my fingers in her mouth to help her breathe," he told the High Court in Pretoria, South Africa.
But in a feisty opening exchange, prosecutor Nel went straight to the heart of the state’s case, saying to Pistorius: “You killed Reeva Steenkamp ... Say it.”
The sprinter responded that he had “made a terrible mistake."
Pistorius, 27, is accused of premeditated murder after fatally shooting Steenkamp on Valentine's Day last year. He insists it was a case of mistaken identity and that he fired four shots through his bathroom door thinking a burglar was in the room.
On Tuesday, Pistorius read out in court text messages sent by his slain girlfriend, including one in which Steenkamp said she was "scared" of the Olympian, and admitted he “wasn’t kind to her like I should have been.”
The trial continues.
First published April 9 2014, 3:33 AM