Ballistics expert calls Pistorius claim 'impossible'

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JOHANNESBURG -- A police ballistics expert at the murder trial of South African Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius on Wednesday rejected the athlete's assertion that he fired two sets of rapid gunshots when he killed his girlfriend, testifying that her wounds made such a claim impossible.

Mr. Pistorius fired four gunshots through a closed bathroom door, but Reeva Steenkamp's wounds were not consistent with the results of so-called "double taps," said Capt. Chris Mangena, a prosecution witness.

Capt. Mangena testified that two sets of very rapid gunshots would have resulted in Steenkamp being struck in the waist, where the first gunshot hit her, by all the shots. "If it's two double taps -- she's in a standing position -- all the wounds will be here, in this position," he said, indicating the waist.

Instead, Steenkamp suffered wounds to her hip, arm and head, indicating that there had been a pause between the first shot and the three that followed, Capt. Mangena said. Given the position of the wounds, he said, the double taps scenario was "impossible."

Ms. Pistorius said in an affidavit at a hearing last year he fired two double taps through the bathroom door. He has pleaded not guilty to murder in Steenkamp's death on Valentine's Day last year, contending that he mistook her for an intruder.

Capt. Mangena's testimony in the Pretoria court offered graphic insight into the final minutes of Steenkamp's life. He told the court that Steenkamp, 29, was standing facing the door when Pistorius shot her the first time. She immediately collapsed backward into a sitting position on a magazine rack behind her in the enclosed toilet off the bathroom, he said. Steenkamp raised her arms above her head in a defensive manner, according to Capt. Mangena.

Mr. Pistorius kept firing. One shot struck his girlfriend in her arm and exited. Another hit her left hand, which was trying to protect the right side of her head, the captain said. That bullet penetrated her skull. Another bullet hit a wall and ricocheted around the bathroom.

After being struck in the head, Steenkamp slumped to the right, Capt. Mangena told the court. "I am of the opinion that after this wound was inflicted in the head, she dropped immediately," he said. "Her head ended up on the toilet seat." The lower part of her body was still on the magazine rack, he said.

According to Capt. Mangena, had Steenkamp collapsed onto the floor instead of falling back into a sitting position on the magazine rack after the gunshot to the hip, the subsequent shots -- at about 37 inches, 38 inches and 40 inches -- would have been too high to hit her.

Earlier in the trial, medical experts said the head shot would have killed Steenkamp.

Defense advocate Barry Roux said Wednesday that he would call his own ballistics expert, who would testify that Steenkamp was probably standing and leaning over when she was hit. His expert would also offer a different analysis on the order in which the bullets were fired.

Col. Ian van der Nest, a bloodstain pattern expert, said his analysis of the blood in the bathroom supported Capt. Mangena's analysis of how Steenkamp died and her position when she toppled onto the toilet seat. Blood and hair on the toilet seat and open toilet lid had come from her head. Col. Van der Nest said it was clear that Steenkamp's shorts were pulled up, not down, when she was killed, indicating that she was not using the toilet.

He said bloodstain evidence throughout the house suggested that the victim was shot in the bathroom, dragged out and left on the floor for a brief time, before being carried downstairs, a scenario on which the prosecution and the defense agree.


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