PRETORIA, South Africa—The brown, bullet-marked toilet door through which Oscar Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend was set up in the courtroom at the athlete’s murder trial Wednesday so prosecutors could attempt to recreate his shooting of Reeva Steenkamp a year ago for the judge.
Pistorius, lead defense lawyer Barry Roux and court officials gathered around the door ahead of the day’s proceedings, examining what appeared to be the bullet holes, which were apparently marked with white tags on the wood.
Pistorius, the world-famous double-amputee runner, is on trial for murder for firing four times through the door in a bathroom at his home on Feb. 14 last year, hitting Steenkamp three times and killing her. He says he shot her by mistake thinking she was a dangerous intruder hiding in the toilet cubicle and denies murder. Prosecutors maintain Pistorius shot Steenkamp intentionally. He faces a life sentence with a minimum of 25 years in prison before parole if convicted on the murder charge.
The door has always been viewed as crucial evidence in the case, and was removed from Pistorius’ home in the hours after he shoot Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day morning in 2013. It was kept by police but also taken back to Pistorius’ Pretoria villa with their permission last year so that forensic experts working for the Olympian could do their own work on it.
In court, it was set up to the right of the room and was surrounded by a white border. Behind it, there was a recreation of the cubicle.
A police officer called as a witness by the prosecution removed his suit jacket and attempted to reenact the blows struck by Pistorius against the bathroom door with a cricket bat.
Pistorius says he used the bat to break down the locked door after realizing it was Steenkamp inside, rather than an intruder. He says he shot through the door standing on his stumps, but then ran back to the bedroom and put his prosthetic legs on before returning to try and break the door down with the bat.
Police Lt-Col Johannes Vermeulen, the force’s top forensic investigator who personally inspected the crime scene at Pistorius’ residence, reenacted at least two bat blows to the door—based on the position of impact marks on the wood—as another court official took measurements of his shoulder height as the mock-blows were delivered. He told the court the marks on the door and the height measurements were consistent with blows delivered by a man approximately the height of Pistorius without his prosthetic legs on.
The defense, on cross-examination of the policeman, insisted instead that Pistorius was wearing his prosthetic legs when hitting the door in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine’s Day last year - and the marks from the bat on the door were lower down because the athlete swung with a bent back.
The intricate argument over whether Pistorius, the first amputee to run at the Olympics and now on trial for murder, was on his prosthetic limbs or not is important because it could match parts of his story that he accidentally shot Steenkamp. It could also show that he is lying.
Earlier Wednesday, Darren Fresco, a one-time friend of Pistorius, continued his testimony from the previous day. Fresco testified Tuesday that he was with Pistorius on two occasions when the celebrated disabled runner shot guns in public in the six months before he killed Steenkamp.
Fresco said Pistorius fired without warning out of the sunroof of a moving car in September 2012 and then shot a gun by mistake under a table at a busy Johannesburg restaurant in January 2013 -- around a month before he killed Steenkamp.
Pistorius is charged with murder in Steenkamp’s shooting death and three other firearm-related offenses. He pleaded not guilty to all four charges and specifically denies he shot the gun out of the car, defense lawyer Roux said.