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Blade Runner covers his ears as chilling details emerge in girlfriend's final minutes

Blade Runner covers his ears as chilling details emerge in girlfriend's final minutes

PRETORIA, South Africa – It is the date inscribed on his bicep in black ink: March 6.

Twelve years ago, Oscar Pistorius lost his mother. Today, he covered his ears in the dock, trying to block out the words of the man who tried to save his girlfriend's life, as he described her injuries in court.

"I tried to assist, to look for signs of life," radiologist Johan Stipp recounted, describing what happened after arriving at Pistorius' door in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine's Day last year where he saw Reeva Steenkamp laying on the floor. "There was no pulse in the neck, no peripheral pulse, no breathing movements. … She was clenching down on Oscar's fingers as he tried to open her airway."

Assessing her wounds – in her right thigh, her right upper arm and a terrible head injury – Stipp says he realized she was "mortally wounded" and that he could do nothing to help her.

 

It was a matter-of-fact, but graphic description, and it reduced the Blade Runner to tears.

"He [Oscar] was crying all the time, praying for her to live," Stipp told the court. "He said he would dedicate his life and her life to God, if only she would live and not die that night."

Stipp says Pistorius stayed by his model girlfriend's side, except when he briefly left to go up stairs, a moment when Stipp said he was concerned that the distraught Paralympian might try to hurt himself with the gun that had not yet been recovered.

"I shot her. I thought she was a burglar and I shot her," Stipp recalled Pistorius saying as he tried to attend to Steenkamp, lying on her back at the bottom of the stairs.

"He definitely wanted her to live," Stipp said, when questioned by defense attorney Barry Roux in cross-examination.

Pistorius remained bowed in the dock, even when a member of his defense team reached over and touched his head to reassure him.

After four days of testimony, a central question has emerged: What was heard when, a distinction that could ultimately decide the Blade Runner's fate.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel has begun laying out the State's case, which paints a picture of a man who shot his girlfriend, despite her screams.

[Pistorius Trial: Witness timeline could cast doubt over prosecution's case]

In his testimony, prosecution witness Stipp, who lives in the same luxury estate subdivision as Pistorius, says he was awakened by three loud bangs in rapid succession, and when he ran onto the balcony, which has direct line of sight to Pistorius' bathroom window, he heard the screams of what sounded like a woman "scared out of her mind."

Stipp also said he noticed the bathroom light was on, a distinction that contradicts Pistorius' account.

While he was attempting to contact the estate's security (which did not answer his calls) and then South Africa's national emergency hotline (which appeared to be out of order), he heard another three loud bangs, at 3:17 a.m., according to his phone log.

Stipp, who has received weapons training with a 9mm pistol in the army, says he believes both sets of noises to have been gunshots, and so he consulted with security before approaching the house to see if he could offer medical assistance.

During the subsequent arguments in court, with Nel and Roux seemingly unable to agree on the number of shots, the exchange between the two attorneys became increasingly exasperated.

Pistorius looked confused, furrowing his brow.

It has forced both sides to lay out their cases.

Roux, in his cross-examinations of witnesses so far, has suggested that the first set of "bangs" – the ones that woke Stipp – are the gunshots that struck Reeva Steenkamp, causing such extensive brain damage that she would have subsequently been unable to scream. He says it therefore follows that the later screams, which witnesses thought to be female, must have been a distressed Pistorius after he realized his mistake.

The defense insists that the second set of "bangs" – which several neighbors heard at 3:17 a.m. – was the noise of the cricket bat Pistorius used to break down the locked toilet door.

However, the prosecution insists the "bangs" at 3:17 a.m. are the shots that struck Steenkamp. "She was alive and screaming [before]," Nel contends, and only then did Pistorius open fire, fully aware Steenkamp was behind the locked door, not an intruder.

Nel has not addressed what the first set of "bangs" could have been, saying all will be revealed as they continue to present their case.

 

Neither the prosecution's nor the defense's account has been altogether discounted by witness testimony so far, and much hinges on how each side will address two crucial questions: Which set of "bangs" were the shots that killed Steenkamp? And could Pistorius' distressed shouts have sounded like a woman screaming for her life?

It is on these points that defense attorney Roux is trying to gain ground.

Pressing Stipp in cross-examination, he suggested that the male and female voices the radiologist heard could have both been Pistorius. But Stipp insists the voices were intermingled and had two distinct tones.

In his morning interrogation of Charl Johnson, another neighbor, Roux tried to get him to admit the same. But maintaining his composure, Johnson also insisted he could clearly distinguish two voices – a male and a female – because they shouted for help in quick succession.

"I have difficulty accepting Mr Roux's version," Johnson said, also refusing to admit that the "bangs" he heard could have been a cricket bat against a door, noting that they happened in such rapid succession the person wielding the bat would not have time to swing between hits.

Roux questioned Johnson's credibility, the independence of his police statement and the accuracy of his notes, accusing him of having made up his mind about Pistorius' guilt.

"Your interpretation is a designed one, to sideline and incriminate the accused," Roux told Johnson on the stand. "There's a design on your side to incriminate, and that's unfortunate."

Johnson remained adamant he is only relating what he heard.

"We didn't want to choose sides," he said, adding that he and his wife Michelle Burger had felt a moral obligation to come forward, despite being very private people.

Stipp will return to the witness box on Friday.

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