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Thu Oct 23 10:36:18 SAST 2014

Bullets made to rip and mutilate

Graeme Hosken | 11 March, 2014 00:01
TOUGH DAY: Oscar Pistorius leaves the Pretoria High Court after a day of testimony in which the impact of law-enforcement calibre bullets was described. An ANC Women's League protester is the background
Image by: Alon Skuy

The bullets in the chamber of murder accused Oscar Pistorius's gun on the night he killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, are designed to cause maximum damage and potential death.

On the sixth day of Pistorius's trial, the High Court in Pretoria heard that the bullets that killed Steenkamp were designed to open like flower petals and that shards expanded upon impact, causing devastating fatal injuries, massive haemorrhaging, shattered bones, torn muscles and immediate incapacity. Steenkamp was shot three times - in the head, hip and arm - on Valentine's Day last year while inside the locked toilet of Pistorius's Silver Woods estate home in Pretoria.

The athlete maintains he shot her because he mistook her for an intruder. The prosecution insists it was premeditated murder.

His hollow-point ammunition - produced by US gun manufacturer Winchester Ranger - is commonly referred to as expansion rounds or "black talon" bullets and is recommended for law enforcement use only in the US.

According to the testimony of state pathologist Gert Saayman, who conducted Steenkamp's post mortem, any of the three gunshots she sustained would have killed her.

His grisly testimony had Steenkamp's close friends in the public gallery crying, while Pistorius repeatedly retched into a bucket while holding his thumbs to his ears.

According to Saayman, the bullet that hit Steenkamp in the head splintered, the shards that entered her brain immediately incapacitating her. Steenkamp would have been incapable of voluntary action, he said.

Asked by prosecutor Gerrie Nel if Steenkamp would have collapsed if shot in the hip first, Saayman said such an injury would have caused instantaneous instability.

He said that in all likelihood the hip wound would have made Steenkamp stumble and collapse. It would have been a devastating injury. The injury to her right arm, which was completely shattered, would have been fatal unless a tourniquet had been applied in the hour after the wound was sustained, he said.

Questioned over the wound to the hip, Saayman said unless Steenkamp had received immediate medical assistance her chances of survival would have been limited, with nothing but operative surgery able to save her.

The prosecution is arguing that Steenkamp screamed after she was first shot and that it was these screams that alerted neighbours to an apparent argument and subsequent killing at the Pistorius home.

In an apparent contradiction of Pistorius's testimony at his bail application that the couple had gone to bed by 10pm, Saayman said that judging by the contents of Steenkamp's stomach, she could not have eaten more than two hours before her death. She was killed just after 3am.

Private forensic ballistic expert Kobus du Plessis told The Times outside court that "black talons" were "carrier rounds" in South Africa. "It is not something you shoot on a range. You carry it with you, sometimes for protection.

"Expansion ammunition like this is designed to cause maximum damage . more severe wounds are caused by the bullet's high energy rate. The end results are maximum . medical intervention . can be futile."

Before Saayman, the estate's security supervisor, Pieter Baba, took the witness stand. Despite persistent cross-examination by Pistorius's lawyer, Barry Roux, Baba insisted it was he [Baba] who had phoned Pistorius on the night of the shooting and not the other way round.

Roux said their records showed Pistorius contacted security first.

"Then why, if he thought there was an intruder inside the house, did he not push his home panic button?" asked Baba.

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