Pistorius was heartbroken, says social worker
PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — Oscar Pistorius’ defense team continued Thursday to present a picture of a man who was heartbroken after he killed his girlfriend in what he says was a tragic accident.
The defense called a social worker and probation officer who visited Pistorius in a police cell a day after he fatally shot Reeva Steenkamp to testify at the double-amputee Olympian’s murder trial. Social worker Yvette van Schalkwyk said she observed an emotionally devastated Pistorius last year who was grieving for his slain girlfriend and concerned for her parents.
“I saw a heartbroken man. He cried 80 percent of the time. He talked to me about what they planned for the future, his future with her,” said van Schalkwyk, who told the court that she decided to testify at the trial because she was upset by suggestions reported in the media that Pistorius was feigning grief to sway the judge in his favor.
Gerrie Nel, the chief prosecutor, objected to van Schalkwyk’s testimony, saying it was not relevant to the charges against Pistorius, but the judge allowed her to proceed.
The prosecution maintains Pistorius killed Steenkamp intentionally by shooting her through a toilet cubicle door in the early hours of Feb. 14, 2013 after a fight. In allowing van Schalkwyk to testify about her Feb. 15, 2013 meeting with Pistorius, Judge Thokozile Masipa noted that Nel had asked Pistorius during the runner’s own testimony if he was trying to use his emotions to his advantage. Pistorius has cried and broken down sobbing on numerous occasions at the trial.
Nel said it was hardly surprising that Pistorius would be traumatized immediately after killing his girlfriend amid intense global interest in the case, and pushed van Schalkwyk to acknowledge that Pistorius never specifically said to her he was sorry he killed Steenkamp. That omission, according to Nel, supported his contention that Pistorius was feeling sorry for himself and was unwilling to take responsibility.
“It’s all about him,” the prosecutor said.
Van Schalkwyk’s testimony was unexpected. She said she only contacted Pistorius’ defense team two days earlier to say she was willing to testify.
Her evidence followed that of Prof. Aina Christina Lundgren, an anesthetist who testified at the start of the 28th day of the trial.
Lundgren’s evidence related to an autopsy report on Steenkamp’s body that said she still had food in her stomach after she was killed by Pistorius, leading prosecutors to challenge his story that the couple last ate around eight hours before he shot her. An expert testifying for the prosecution said a person’s stomach is normally empty of food six hours after eating and Steenkamp ate much later on the night of the killing.
Prosecutors say Pistorius is lying about events on the fatal night and the couple were up arguing late into the night before Pistorius shot Steenkamp multiple times. Pistorius testified the couple ate dinner at around 7 p.m. on the night she was killed, and they were in bed around 10 p.m. Pistorius shot Steenkamp soon after 3 a.m.
Lundgren, who described herself as a specialist anesthetist, testified that there are a number of factors that could have delayed the digestion process in Steenkamp to explain the food found in her stomach, including that she was a pre-menopausal woman and had been sleeping.
Lundgren was presented by the defense to try and undermine the testimony of pathologist Prof. Gert Saayman, who said it was his opinion that Steenkamp ate much later than Pistorius says, possibly even at around 1 a.m. when the runner claims they were in bed. Lundgren said it was difficult to be exact about the rate of digestion and it was “speculative to attempt to estimate when she had last eaten.”
Prosecutor Nel pointed to Saayman’s findings that he could even identify vegetable and cheese matter in Steenkamp’s stomach.