Pistorius vomits during graphic testimony

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PRETORIA, South Africa -- Hunched over, vomiting into a bucket by his feet and retching loudly, Oscar Pistorius was vividly reminded at his murder trial Monday of the gruesome injuries he inflicted on his girlfriend, as a pathologist described how the Olympian fatally shot her multiple times with bullets designed to cause maximum damage.

The testimony by pathologist Gert Saayman, who performed the autopsy on Reeva Steenkamp's body, was so graphic that it was not broadcast or reported live on social media by journalists under an order from Judge Thokozile Masipa.

Dr. Saayman methodically listed the extent of the three main gunshot wounds that Steenkamp suffered on Valentine's Day last year, when she was shot by the double-amputee runner in the right side of the head, the right hip and the right arm through a toilet cubicle door. He said Steenkamp, 29, was hit by special Black Talon bullets, and that the head shot from Mr. Pistorius' 9 mm pistol was probably almost instantly fatal.

Bent over while seated on a wooden bench, Mr. Pistorius vomited as Dr. Saayman reached his right hand up toward the right side of his own head to show the entrance and exit wounds in Steenkamp's skull.

Judge Masipa briefly halted the testimony to ask chief defense lawyer Barry Roux to attend to his client. The judge later asked whether Mr. Pistorius was able to understand the proceedings as he sat with hands clasped over his ears, his body heaving.

"Is your client fine?" the judge asked Mr. Roux.

The lawyer replied: "It's not going to be fine," indicating that Mr. Pistorius' reaction would not improve. A bucket was placed at his feet, and he then vomited at least two more times and cried.

Mr. Pistorius is charged with premeditated murder for killing Steenkamp and could face as much as life in prison if convicted. The prosecution contends that the shooting followed a loud argument between the couple. The defense maintains that he shot her by mistake, thinking she was an intruder.

Through the sounds of Mr. Pistorius retching in the dock, the pathologist testified that he was able to identify the ammunition from a bullet fragment lodged at the bottom of Steenkamp's skull. The bullets were designed to expand on impact and cause severe damage.

The pathologist said any of the three gunshot wounds in isolation could have been fatal.

Dr. Saayman stood through his testimony to indicate the location of Steenkamp's bullet wounds by touching his hand to his own head, arm and hip. He noted that Steenkamp also had a wound on her left hand, possibly from a bullet, and described abrasions and smaller injuries caused by splinters, which he said were consistent with bullets fired through a wooden object.

The detailed evidence regarding the injuries is important because, for one, Mr. Pistorius has claimed that Steenkamp was slumped over but alive when he eventually reached her after shooting her in error, thinking she was a dangerous intruder.

That appears unlikely, given Dr. Saayman's testimony, but the pathologist did note that sometimes it takes a little time for a person's heart to stop after a devastating head injury.

But his testimony also could harm the prosecution claims that Steenkamp screamed during the shooting, unless prosecutors can show that the head shot was the last one to hit her.

Dr. Saayman also said that, judging by the food contents in her stomach, Steenkamp probably last ate no more than two hours before her death. She was shot after 3 a.m., meaning she must have eaten after 1 a.m. That hinted at another possible wrinkle in Mr. Pistorius' account, because he has asserted that the two of them were in the bedroom by 10 p.m.

Mr. Pistorius' defense team has indicated that it will submit its own autopsy report to support his claim that the killing was a tragic accident.

If convicted on the murder charge, Mr. Pistorius, 27, could be sent to prison for at least 25 years before the chance of parole, the minimum time someone must serve if given a life sentence in South Africa. The judge will ultimately deliver the verdict and decide on any sentence.

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